Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I've been having a fairly horrible week health-wise - this is the fourth day in a row I've felt pretty wretched. So pardon the lower quality of this post.

The word-tumble story concerns me because I have something eight or nine named characters. They're introduced slowly so you can grasp who each is in turn, and I've been careful not to name anything else so you don't have your attention split over other foreign syllable combinations, and it's necessary ... but it's still worrisome to me.

Scylla and Charybdis - I don't know I bother to write character profiles for novels. I am now introducing the third or fourth character who wasn't even mentioned in my original material. But I didn't have this entire plot arc in my head when I started, so it's natural I wouldn't have a character to fulfill it. The individual is a Tweaker (basically a professional jury-rigger of technology) nicknamed Flick.

Journal of the Dead - nothing to report, your honor. Carry on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Signs ...

... I'm an incurable dork: I traveled today with volume cranked, singing along, practically headbanging, to ... Sondheim's "Into The Woods."

Anyone who happened to read my lips in a neighboring car was going to think I was insane.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Emerald Tales

Just got finished reading the special SF/F/H edition of Emerald Tales #1: Follow the Butterflies. Need to spend a moment here talking about the physical aspects of the magazine, because they impressed me. If you're not going to go in the direction of an ultra-sleek store magazine feel, this is the way to do it. The magazine has an antique string binding and a spackled cover with very adorable stylized butterflies on it. Each page has a faint greyed-out impression of the butterfly, which I first found a little distracting, but it quickly faded into the woodwork (ahem ... pun intended?) and it was nice flavor.

What impressed me most was how many different ways there were to "follow the butterflies." Some of the stories took it literally; one took it as a bellwether of the apocalypse; one as a metaphorical pursuit of beauty ... impressive work with the theme.

I think my favorites were "The End of the World: A User's Guide," "The Return of the Supes," and "How To Mount and Frame Fairies" which is ... morbidly hysterical. I was a little disappointed not to find any secondary world fantasy, but perhaps in future editions ...

I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed most of the poetry, considering that I am usually not very fond of free verse. They definitely have cadence, rhythm and mystery. (I am little concerned about my own poetry sub for the next issue, though. It's structured form, which is my passion in poetry. Hope just the form-i-ness doesn't turn the editor off.)

If I had a critique, I think that White Butterfly might not have been the best opening. It's a short, crisp, clean story - and I enjoyed it - but it's more slipstream than hardcore fantasy, and I sort of feel as if a special issue of SF/F/H needs to start with a, "WE ARE HERE!" to the genre elements. ;-)

This is worth picking up. I only wish it were longer!

Briar Rose, Jane Yolen

I've been wanting to read this book for some time, but because of what I've heard about it, I put it off several times: I needed to read something happy, I needed something light and mindless because I was traveling, I didn't feel up to a "deep" book ... etc.

When I finally got around to it, I was surprised by several things. I'd built up a picture of this book in my head and for the most part, it didn't match said picture.

First and foremost - it's not a fantasy novel. I had assumed since it was printed by Tor (fantasy line) that it would have some cohesive fantastic element. I suppose this is because it comes from Jane Yolen who is well-known in her genre. I kept waiting for something to sneak magic into the story, and it never happened.

Secondly - I always assumed that the story was from the point of view of the character who turns out to be the grandmother, that it was told from inside the camp. Instead, it's the story of her granddaughter unraveling her history.

(Neither of these is a problem or detracts from the book! It just surprised me.)

Now that confusion cleared up, I really enjoyed Becca as a character and the path her search for grandmother took, even the romance side-story that slips in between the lines - very well done for not a lot of words committed to it.

However -- when, with about two-thirds of the book finished, another character finishes the tale with an eye-witness account ... it becomes sort of an anti-climax, despite the intense and memorable images. (It doesn't help that the character is *so* much a survivor-not-hero that after reading about plucky Becky, he irritates by comparision.)

It comes off feeling unfinished somehow. Maybe this is partly because the entire framing fairytale isn't related in the italic chapters interspersed amongst the rest. Maybe because, even as a person who doesn't mind some loose ends, I felt that one question too many went unanswered after such an extended search.

I enjoy Yolen's craft as ever, but this book left me feeling a bit disconnected.

(Next stop: the SF/F/H edition of Emerald Tales #1.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I'm now working on what I call a word-tumble story: I come up with a list of random words, jumble them, and start writing, with the mission to fit the next word in each block of 100 words. In this case, all the words begin with H. I've got thirty-some, so at some point I'll have to figure out if I can finish in 3000-some words, or if I need more.

In Scylla and Charybdis -- last Friday, I finally reached the place where the original short story left off. The three sections that comprised it were extended; a fourth section was added before the final question of, "So which way do you turn?" It's only now that I've reached it that I have any specific ideas how I'm going to tackle next part, but I have a good feel for the larger arc, so hopefully it will come out in the wash. Right now, I think I'm looking at a 120 - 140k novel, so the focus in editing is probably going to be paring that down.

Journal of the Dead -- in the middle of Parik's story. I am very fond of this section: it doesn't directly connect to the plot, but it gives the reader the answer to a question they've (hopefully) been asking from early on. It's also a reminder that the targeted suicide that awakens a mage's powers doesn't always work.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


WIZARDS Anthology - Edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

I've heard this praised as one of the best anthologies of 2007 - so I figured no one would mind if little ol' me took a crack at evaluating it. Also, I was genuinely hoping for an excellent read.

Neil Gaiman's "The Witch's Headstone" was a wonderful opening to this anthology. It's an intriguing story, steeped in folklore and a sense of timelessness, about Bod (or Nobody) Owens, a boy who meets the ghost of a witch and promises to buy her a headstone. The development of the fantastic angle in the opening is particularly well-handled: it sneaks up on you and yet seems perfectly normal in context with this strange little boy. My only quibble is that I wanted to see more plot and conflict; it seemed that the premise was underused in such a short space.

I had mixed feelings about Garth Nix's "Holly and Iron." The historical setting, intertwined with magic, was immersive and authentic, and follows the struggles of the outcast heir to Ingland to reclaim the kingdom and take revenge. However, I found the main character, Robin, difficult to sympathize with. She seemed selfish and somewhat petulant, making the same mistakes in a tale that was somewhat longer than it needed to be. On a technical level, the opening could be clearer about the distinction between the two types of magic, and the Robin's goal in the later part of the story is made unnecessarily coy. You can read between the lines, but the very vagueness of it made me think something more complex was occurring. Kudos for the weaving of legend and magic, however.

I enjoyed "Color Vision" by Mary Rosenblum, which has a particularly fun opening sequence: an ability is displayed which looks supernatural, but turns out to have a rational explanation. However, it still deftly sets the scene for the real magic and the villain. Melanie has synesthesia and is also a Firstborn, a user of magic. When the new principal's silver words disrupt her world, she must find a way to defeat him. I dislike the gratuituous use of present tense and I think there were some holes in the logic in this story - why don't the Firstborn band together? Why wasn't the solution in the end of the story tried earlier? (and some things that would give away plot points) - but overall, I found it a satisfying read.

I was absolutely delighted with Kage Baker's "The Ruby Incomparable," a fairy-tale style story about the daughter of the tyrannical Master of the Mountain and the Saint of the World - a headstrong girl who surprises everyone. It was beautiful, it was engaging, Svnae sharply defined and fascinating to follow. Even with many years and many adventurers summarized, it holds the attention. (I can even forgive Baker for giving the main character an unpronouncable name.)

"A Fowl Tale" by Eoin Colfer made me laugh. This short, snappy comic tale is about an enchanted dove who must tell a story for his supper. The references to popular storylines - and seven master plots - particularly tickled my fancy. A charming story, well worth the brief read.

At this point, I have to say: if this is representative of the quality of the whole anthology, I will be a very happy reader.

Jane Yolen's "Slipping Sideways Through Eternity" certainly does not break this trend. This is the story of a young Jewish girl who sees Elijah during a Passover and finds herself aiding him. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching, always absorbing, this story follows our narrator through history. I loved how her talent for art, casually woven into the story at first, proved to play a central role - though by contrast, I thought it wasn't expanded well enough for the final conclusion. Still, a thoroughly satisfying read.

I enjoyed the conclusion of Tad Williams' "The Stranger's Hands," but I thought the story took too long to get there, and didn't give quite enough reason for the reader to be interested in waiting. A mysterious stranger appears in a small village and begins granting people their hearts' desires - but why? The question of the stranger and his origins is intriguing, but it is difficult to attach to any of the characters, and the story lacks some tension. I think the last seven pages or so could have been made the bulk of the tale - and like that, it would have been almost flawless.

The style and story of "Naming Day" by Patricia McKillip are light and enjoyable. This is the story of Averil, the best student at her sorcerous school, who can't decide what secret name to take. I sympathized with Averil while seeing her selfishness - a nice bit of work - but I still thought that her mother's response was unfair, and I was disappointed we never do find out what name she chose. (I think the author meant the method of naming to be important enough, but I still wanted the what.) The story also suffered from an unclear setting; it took me a while to be sure that it was in our world rather than a more technological fantasy setting. I did, however, very much like Averil's interactions with Fitch: it could have easily become a cliché, but was perfectly pitched. Cute story, but not one of my favorites.

Elizabeth Hand's "Winter's Wife" is a subtle, under-the-surface story that would have been perfect at a third of its length. As it is, this story about a man who brings back a mysterious wife who is not all she seems - told from the point of view of a teenaged neighbor - is too long, too stuffed with unnecessary details, and takes too long building to what should have been (for the length) an explosive pay-off. Every individual part of the story is well-written, but there is far too much meat on the bone.

At this point, I am really hankering for some solid worldbuilding. Most of these stories are set in our world; others are set in a blurry standard fantasy world. Baker's story included some intriguing setting details, and I did love the mythic-fantastic setting interpolated on Nix's tale, but I'm waiting for a world with unusual magic and an equally unusual sorcerer.

Winner of the longest title, Andy Duncan provides "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question," which follows the adventures of young Pearl as she steps through a showman's attraction - the diorama of the title - into a house of ghosts and secrets. This is a lively, quirky story with an entertaining tone and some amusing details. However, the elements are puzzling and some of the nonsensical parts - the important ones, as opposed to the just-fun ones you let dart past you - never resolve, leaving the story with an unsatisfying gnaw at the back of the brain.

Peter S. Beagle finally gives me the worldbuilding I crave with "Barrens Dance," a narrated legend of what occurs when the sorcerer Carcharos - master of dance - falls in love with the wife of a shukri trainer. This is a story in the best tradition of fairytales; if it moves somewhat ponderously in the beginning, it is forgiveable. I wish that the shukris had been described properly earlier in the story, but that is the only other complaint I have: the ending contains both a satisfying conclusion and a justification for the frame narration - to say more would be to ruin it.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed "Stone Man" by Nancy Kress, considering it deals with one of the elements of fantasy-into-the-mundane-world that I find the most exasperating: how long it takes a character to suspend disbelief. In this case, Jared, a down-and-out skateboarder, survives a nasty accident through the use of stone magic and must come to terms with his abilities. What makes this tale appealing is the snarky adolescent tone, grown up too fast - and perhaps Jared's generalized suspicion of adults in general makes his ridicule of magic in specific more palatable. This isn't a new story, but it's a good one.

I have a confession to make about Jeffrey Ford's "The Manticore Spell" - I didn't get it. The point of the story completely eluded me, except that is a very poetic, lyrical exploration of - obsession? Mythology? In the tale, the wizard Watkin and his young apprentice seek to perform an autopsy on the last manticore. There is mystery, there is tension, but I'm not even sure there is a real plot … just a string of bizarre images and contradictions resolving into a sense of continuation.

Tanith Lee's "Zinder" is a snapshot of an unfortunate young man named Quacker, who at night has a mystical, all-powerful double-life. And it is just a snapshot: there really isn't a plot here, just the sweeping depiction of a single night. Zinder's attitude towards the world is touching and enjoyable, but the rest of the story seems wanting. Random details can add a perfect touch - but here, the details are just random, and they feel it, inserted to give the eye something interesting to read. (Also - present tense again. Argh. No. Just - no.)

My primary reaction to "Billy and the Wizard" by Terry Bisson was, "What? Huh?" This is the story of young Billy, accused of being a sissy because he still plays with dolls - but his dolls speak to him and have wizardly acquaintances. This story was written in a bald, simplistic style; I kept waiting for it to grow on me, but it never did. This is a disjointed tale with a lot of repetition, little explanation, and only a few brief points of disconnected conflict.

Terry Dowling's "The Magikkers" was a joy to read. Sam has come to train at Dessida, a school for magic, but soon learns that he is a magikker: someone with just enough ability for a single large spell. Is he willing to give that up, and for what? This is a great concept for a story; how Sam reacts to the question posed and the ramifications of his decision are well-illustrated, and the conclusion is simply lovely. I think there were a few small mis-steps - some hidden items that should have been visible earlier; a bit of a cheat in how magic can be transferred between people - but they leave little mark on a satisfying story.

Gene Wolfe's "The Magic Animal" is a unique take on Arthurian legend, with much jumbling of chronology. It begins when Viviane, a contemporary girl who can speak to animals, falls off her horse in the forest and meets a fairy. I thought the reinterpretation of the legend was clever, but I disliked the fact that the protagonist simply followed the directions of the fairy - and sometimes knew what to do without any decent explanation - without having much motivation of her own. Much of the story seemed to have loose ends, episodes whose significance was never revealed. The introduction of the name Merlin into the story made me smile, though.

I approached Orson Scott Card's "Stonefather" with some trepidation, as it fills a little over seventy pages in the anthology. I need not have worried. The story of Runnel, who flees his homeland to the city of the wetwizards, is even-paced and engaging. Its narrator is tough but vulnerable, cocky but endearing, and even though I could see what powers he would discover within himself, I enjoyed the journey. His often prickly interactions with the servant Lark are both real and entertaining. The legend incorporated into the tale is a bit hard to read at first, and I found that the final conclusion still strained my belief, but it was still thoroughly worth the read - and the worldbuilding, since I've mentioned it before, was fabulous. I look forward to a novel in this world.

Overall, I enjoyed most of the stories in this anthology and thought they presented some unique views of the use of magical power. I thought the anthology was paced and spaced well, with a strong opening and finish. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Non-heroic short story: finished. Final word count (pre-edit): 6,660 words. That's not ominous or anything.

I'm becoming concerned with Scylla and Charybdis that my mindset is too archaic for science fiction. I'm an old-fashioned girl: I don't like the constantly-plugged-in aspect of iPhones, cellphones that can cook omelettes for you, etc - I don't even understand the appeal. I think that has been reflected in my treatment of connectivity in my societies. You can be effectively linked twenty-four-seven with a device the size of a dot. However ... a lot of people opt out of being publicly accessible.

I honestly think is realistic: after some decades (maybe a century?) of continuous connectivity, it's going to get wearing, and my personal take is that the trend will swing back towards deconnectivity as a way of re-establishing private space. But maybe this is hopelessly old-fashioned. I just don't know.

I should've written this novel two decades ago when this wasn't even an issue, I think.

I'm midway through my Journal rewrite and I just want to say again that I love Razentis. He's such a thoroughly odd man. Fear a savvy politician who has nothing to do except amuse himself.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Working on a new story for the monthly challenge. This time, the challenge is to write a story where the main character is not a hero. This was inspired by a discussion on the forums, and I decided to interpret it as a story about a character who catalyzes everything (or almost everything) in the story, but doesn't actually have any heroic motivations or take any heroic actions.

Surprisingly, I've actually managed to come up with a good plot for this, and a character I hope people will identify with. Much of the focus of the tale is around a romantic relationship. I'm finding that sometimes, the MC's self-image (which is important to his non-heroic...ness) cuts a little too close to home ...

Scylla and Charybdis - I'm feeling as if the action is in a lull. There's not a lot of tension, and I worry that someone might just put the book down ... but the breather is a necessary component of the action to follow. I also just did a shameless info-dump on how the two societies developed, but since I'm thirteen chapters / forty thousand words / @ 160 pages in, surely one can forgive an author a little relation of information that cannot be found out any other way.

Journal of the Dead - this is taking a long time, darnit. Am very pleased with the introduction of Oliun, one of the central antagonists; he comes off (I hope) very chilling and yet very real. Mostly, though, feeling antsy: I just want this novel edited and out there already.

Monday, August 03, 2009


This quote was on my page-a-day calendar, and it amused me:

"I can't understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars." -- Fred Allen

Why, indeed? ;-)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Herd Mentality

Last night (or rather, early this morning) I finished what I hope will be the final edit on "The Herd Mentality" in preparation to start submitting it. This is a contemporary fantasy story involving psychic vampire unicorns, dragons, and virgins. I set it in the midwest, so I got a chance to poke fun at my hometown.

This one has been a long haul. When I first went to review it, I had it in my head that I wasn't going to submit it - I thought it had come out too weird. When I actually sat down to read it, I found that the mood was more surreal and off-beat -- a pitch I don't hit often, and I was rather pleased with it. However, there was another problem: a couple motivation holes in the latter part of the story.

I struggled with these. I probably changed my mind how to handle it three times, each edit spaced out over months. Finally - finally! - I think I've got it worked out in a way that matches the mood and makes sense, while still leaving things vaguely unsettled ... which was part of the original ending. (I also managed to get it under five thousand words, which was a nice bonus.)

Now, of course, watch editors hate it. ;-)