Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

I finished my outline for Scylla and Charybdis this week - comfortably under the deadline I had chosen in a goalsetting group, which was a pleasant surprise. However, I won't be able to hang it on the wall as the length meant I had two size options: massive and sprawling or too tiny to read from a distance. I went with the smaller version - it's actually more manageable than the Journal outline, even though there's a boatload more text. An ocean liner, I tell you. Maybe the Titanic.

I was surprised how little emotional elaboration there was in the first few chapters, considering that Anaea's thoughts chase around themselves ad nauseum later on. I've been jotting down notations to add stuff, which is not how I wanted to start considering I want to get a minimum of thirty thousand words out of the draft (!) by the time I'm done. I've got to keep perspective, though: a trimmer manuscript is important given publisher preferences, but not if I cut out sense and substance.

In the opposite direction entirely, I've almost finished my worldbuilding for the reality TV project. I am concerned I've erred too far in the direction of making the countries and their real-world influence recognizable, but I do want them to feel familiar. Conversely, I feel as if every time I sit down to work out a setting, the result is more nuanced and granular, taking into account more of the elements that shape nations / people. That can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Goodreads Review: Glory, Passion, and Principle etc etc

Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American RevolutionGlory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an interesting introduction to the untold story of women in the Revolutionary War, solid enough to give the reader perspective and (hopefully) the desire to find out more. However, it is not without its flaws. The author chose to dramatize select scenes from each woman's story in a manner that sometimes results in the worst of both worlds: the fiction segments can be clumsy and amateurish, and the interpolation of facts in the middle of these scenes comes off as badly integrated info-dumping rather than informative nonfiction. If the author was going to attempt narrative, why didn't a fiction editor go over the manuscript?

Another unfortunate side effect of this vehicle is that the author often starts with a dramatic moment and then works backwards to fill in the history. This tendency expands to the rest of each entry, such that I often had to stop and reread pages to decipher the actual chronology.

Probably the best and most cohesive section is the last, discussing the life of Nancy Ward - a figure whose existence was unknown to me. (Though she is the only one here I hadn't at least heard of.) However, I also highly enjoyed the discussion of Molly Pitcher, and thought the expanded social history - the place of women on the fringes of the army; the idea that one legend stood for other unsung acts of bravery - was well handled.

Overall, a thoughtful history book much marred by its execution.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 24, 2010

Showing Off

Here's the official cover for Taming The Weald. No information on release date (haven't even done edits!), but thought I would share.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

First overwhelming thought for Thursday: man, I'd like to be asleep now.

On more writerly topics, almost done with Mathory's story. He and Pazia have a fair bit in common: they're both idealistic, a bit naive, stubborn and impulsive. With Pazia, she just dives into things; with Mathory, there's this little voice that knows it may not be a good idea, but he just can't help himself. Which one is more foolish for this, well - it's a tough call.

In the midst of worldbuilding work for my reality TV project. I'd been staring at the name Thanocyth (for a place, not a person), almost certain I've used it before ... and in checking the most likely source, I encountered another name - Scirhinth - which seemed far more evocative. However, it's very tied to this other setting (it has meaning in the naming language I constructed) and difficult to alter. So for now, Thanocyth stays. But I want it to sound more martial and less institutional.

Maybe something will hit me when I'm less tired. Or conversely, *more* tired ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Inverted Tropes Wearing Thin?

Taking a familiar trope and turning in on its ear can be a delightful practice ... but there reaches a point where the inversion itself becomes cliche. The first brooding "good-guy" vampire was probably a shocker; now you can't throw a stone in a bookstore without hitting one. Possibly literally. (I'm not wondering about the pale guy browsing the calendars, are you?) There have been so many stories where the knight comes to rescue the princess from the dragon - and the princess doesn't want to go, or is capable of taking care of herself, or ... that I'm no longer surprised by it. (I have yet to see a story where the prince comes to rescue the damsel and falls in love with the dragon, but I'm sure such stories exist. Hrm ... might be worth writing just for fun, actually.)

The best ever story I've seen on the dragon-knight-damsel triangle has to be from my childhood: Waiting For A White Knight, in Cricket magazine. But that just illustrates how long people have been flipping this one on its ear.

There are some trope inversions, however, that I feel haven't outlived their shelf life yet. One I'm particularly fond of works off the girl who disguises herself as a boy. Now, I'm willing to give this a pass as an overused trope in the first place, because it's a) practical and b) fairly common in history, as well. The only time I have a problem with this trope is when it's a major plot point or the reader is supposed to be surprised. (For the best treatment of this trope and all the asssociated cliches ever, read Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. One of his best.)

The inversion, of course, is a boy who disguises themselves as a girl for whatever reason ... and not to point to specific stories (because that would be a spoiler), I've done this and had a tremendous amount of fun with it. I also played with a different inversion in Just The Messenger: a character stares at the MC and threatens to expose her as a disguised girl. She bursts out laughing and points out that the various accoutrements of male attire are just more practical; she's not trying to hide.

Another trope I can't see skewered enough is a romance trope - the whole, wince-worthy I-can't-even-watch-the-screen tableau that occurs when one character has been keeping a big secret from another, the second character finds out, and then idiotically storms off without waiting for an explanation. Artificial tension and stupidity ahoy. I guess this is supposed to be sort of an object moral lesson: if you're dishonest, you pay for it. But nine times out of ten, it comes out forced.

I inverted this around in a story by having the MC withhold a secret. Someone else spills the beans for him while he and his SO are standing together. He rushes off without waiting for a reaction, just assuming she's not going to want anything else to do with him. He goes to see her later to make amends ... and finds out that she understands exactly why he was lying and doesn't particularly mind.

The prime problem with trope inversions, I think, is that they rely upon an element of surprise. Not the kind that pulls the rug out from under the reader, but the kind that elicits a reaction of, "Oh, wow! Really?" It's far easier for that surprise factor to wear off / become overused than it is for the original trope.

The Final Encounter, published by the good folks over at Aoife's Kiss, was my attempt to invert one more trope: the pulp fantasy / b-movie scene where the hero rushes up to the villain's tower to confront him. In this story, both characters ... decide to walk away, and their evolution from that denial of trope is the story. Unfortunately, when attempting to sell it, I got a few rejections that criticized the use of tropes. This, to me, missed the point, but it's also a relevant complaint, and illustrates another danger with breaking tropes: you have to get a jaded reader who's seen the dragon-knight-damsel a hundred times to read on far enough to enjoy the inversion.

Of course, there are those of us who take this as a thrown gauntlet ...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Religion and Myth

I just started worldbuilding for my novel project and noticed I started with the pantheon. In this case, it's a logical choice - they are the "viewing audience," after all - but it also occurred to me that:

1. I often start with deities, creation myths, etc; and)

2. I usually work from the assumption that these beings / stories are real. Whether this is verifiable for the characters is another matter, and I rarely use divine appearances ... but as an author, I am treating my gods as if they were real forces. So what I am almost always doing is creating the elements and then deciding how worshippers / religions view them.

There is some advantage to this: you can suggest a framework of what is important to a culture and their values from this starting point. To take Greek mythology, notice that the god of wine is important enough to be in the "top tier," the god of war is often portrayed as a bully no one likes, and the female gods who are most protrayed as positive / admirable are virgins (or at least chaste).

So what about y'all? If you do advance worldbuilding, when do you consider the underpinnings of religion for your society / societies? Or do you wing it unless the story in some way features the divine?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

So periodically, I go on research binges: pick a topic and reserve every library book I can find on the topic. My library system has a full internet presence and enables books to be reserved from and sent for pickup to among about thirty different individual libraries ... so all it requires is search and click.

My last binge was a mini binge: I was doing reality TV research, but there weren't that many books to be found. This binge is slightly larger: while in DC, I got interested in Mercy Otis Warren. I reserved two books about her, two books about women who shaped the American Revolution in general, and one book *by* her - her overview of the Revolution. While on vacation, I bought a book about George Washington's spies and lady spies during the Civil War so ... bring on the history. I expect to make a lot of notes about story sparkers: history and myth have been my biggest inspirations.

Might be a good time for me to reread Menagerie (my story with The Sword Review some time back): Mariel "Molly" Strahan is a werehound and bounty hunter in a setting intended to resemble just-post-Revolutionary America. She's about as subtle as a hammer - read the first scene of Menagerie (here: and you'll see exactly what I mean - so putting her directly into a spy role is out, but perhaps she could get caught up in a mission ...

Not much to say from the writing front, which is why I haven't. ;-) Work continues apace.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adventures in ... Cooking

Over the weekend, I've been making forays into an activity that might be considered creative - but not until you reach more advanced levels of competence and can actually begin to experiment. That activity is cooking.

I'm enjoying it right now because it's a challenging and an adventure ... and the results taste good, too. It will probably become less of an adventure when I develop more competence with the skill set. To illustrate what I'm talking about: yesterday, I fried something for the first time. I blithely poured the oil in, then realized I needed about a quart. I looked at the label on the bottle, and of course, the servings are in tablespoons. So - oil still on the stove - I fled into the other room to Google and discern how many tablespoons were in a quart (64, for the record). Yes, Google is my cooking companion.

I also enjoy the shopping part of it: trawling the store in search of slightly more unusual ingredient such as dill, crystallized ginger, chocolate wafer cookies (way harder to find than you'd ever imagine), etc. No, neither coconut milk nor condensed milk are kept anywhere near the actual milk. (By the way, if you should ever open a can of coconut milk and there's a jello-ish outer layer, do not under any circumstances turn it upside down and try to scoop it out with a spoon. I lost about an ounce of milk from splash.)

By now, you should be getting the idea that my incompetence is pretty impressive, but I have fun with it. More frustratingly, I'm left-handed. Do you have any idea how many kitchen implements are designed subtly (or not so subtly) with right-handed use in mind?

For amusement, here is my list of recipes to try:

Ron's Tybee Island Sausage Pie (Paula Deen)
Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola Cheese (Giada de Laurentis)
Fettucine Alfredo (Giada de Laurentis)
Pine Nut Cookies (Giada de Laurentis)
Amaretto and Raspberry Smoothie (Giada de Laurentis)
Garlic and Sun-dried Tomato Corn Muffins (Giada de Laurentis)
Baked Samosas with Mint Chutney (Aarti Sequiera) found here:

As you can see ... uh ... well, I am from Italian roots (my grandfather was Italian / Sicilian) and I love that style of food. I don't know where the love of Indian comes from, because I have not a drop of non-European in me ... maybe it's the English / Welsh influence. Given that England does everyone else's cuisine really well because theirs is nothing to write home about. ;-)

When it comes down to it, I have a deep love of food. For me, taste and smell are very strong elements - even though my own sense thereof is sadly muted (blame allergies). To bring it all back to writing ... I often translate feelings and descriptions into taste and smell almost before I go for sight and hearing. It's something with which I identify very strongly, and getting connected with that in a physical way has been a great experience.

Anatomy of an Idea: The Naming Braid

I think I've talked about this story before, possibly more than once, but to recap now that it is available for your reading pleasure ...

The idea for The Naming Braid goes back to my Celtic and Nordic Myth and Religion course, in which we studied the Lais of Marie de France. I was intrigued by the stories of chivalry and magic and the overlay of Christianity on much older myths. Much later, I decided I wanted to write a story based on one of the lais, so I reread them in search of inspiration.

What I noticed was that, even when the woman was the goal / prize of the story, she almost never had a name. She was "Protagonist's beloved" or "Antagonist's wife" or some other combination of male-and-relation. My reaction was both indignation and, "Hmm, there's a story here ..."

So I conceived of a world where people were given epithet-like names in honor of some trait they displayed or deed they performed ... and names were exclusively given to men, the proported history-makers. I decided to weave together three of the Lais in this world in the context of someone naming each woman - effectively giving them power and identity. It took me a bit to figure out how to intertwine the stories and how to pace them in the telling so they all peaked at the same time. I also wanted to set it up so the one most dependent on coincidence didn't come last.

Of course, ironically, one of the Lais I chose - Le Fresne - is one of the few where the woman has a name, but that's neither here nor there ...

There may be another story of similar timbre happening in the future: I am the proud owner of Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and the books are sitting next to me flooded with pink post-it notes of ballads I think would convert into intriguing fantasy stories. Maybe I'll even try another multiple weave (braid!) like this one. We'll see.

It's out!

Issue 6 of GUD, containing my story "The Naming Braid," is now out! Check it out over at:

This story really had a charmed life. GUD was the first place I submitted it. It was also the first story I'd ever sent to GUD. They came back with a comment about having trouble with the transitions. Interestingly, I'd had this story critiqued, and my reviewers mentioned it, but they were split fifty-fifty as to whether I should use scene-breaks or not. Apparently the people who said "use scene-breaks" were right. ;-) I sent back a revised version and ... boom. Contract.

Even if you don't want to spring for the purchase price, the first three paragraphs of the story are up as a teaser ...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

More than a thousand words of cutting later, my Spiritwalker mystery story is looking more shapely. There was a lot of setting and menace clouding the plot ... I don't think I have it condensed to the necessities quite yet, but I should reach that point in the next pass.

I finished the other short story I had selected from my logline-and-summary bootcamp and returned to continuing old freewrites. Now working on a story featuring Mathory Ke'Lieren. He's the brother of Pazia, my protagonist from Fatecraft; he is also mentioned in Pazia's prequel story, Loyal Dice (which I'm hoping will see print soon), and Natural Selection, which is Pazia and Vanchen's second story and hasn't hit submission yet. So it's really neat to explore a character I've referred to, but never introduced directly, and to see another side of this very complex (and completely ad hoc ... ahem) world.

Pazia, Vanchen and Mathory - and just possibly Kalliniar, The Girl from this story - may end up in a novel some day. I have this inkling it'd be entertaining to turn them into detectives. They're certainly all nosey enough. Well, the Ke'Lierens are ... poor Vanchen just wants to be left alone with his clockwork, but Pazia has a way of pulling him headlong into whatever trouble she's stirred up now.

My next steps include tweaking my query letter for Journal of the Dead (whoot!) and the first worldbuilding steps for my reality TV novel, which needs a title before I start or goshdarnit, I'll end up querying for a project called "My Untitled Novel." The first thing I need to do is create a framework: notes for *how* I'm going to create and assemble the pieces. Yes, I have to prepare to prepare.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Gypsy Shadow contest

Sometimes, entering on a whim pays off!

My story, "Taming The Weald" was the winner of Gypsy Shadow Publishing's third round writing prompt contest. I was worried that best case scenario would be, "We loved the story, but the character was too young for the image," so very pleased.

Announcement hasn't gone up formally yet, but they told me it was okay to post. ;-)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Reality TV - gone fantasy-sized

As I look at how best to translate a "reality TV" feeling to a fantasy-world competition, there are several decisions I have to make. The overarching challenge, I think, is to make it feel recognizably like the original concept without shattering the fourth wall and making it so metafictional that it loses its identity as a cohesive, emotional story. I've read good examples of how to do that. Rebecca Bradley's "Lady In Gil" in particular takes skewering, humorous shots at genre tropes and then managed to bring me to the brink of tears by the end ... and not tears of laughter. For me, humor has to be blended with empathy. You want to laugh with the characters, not at them.

So these are some of the issues I'm percolating:

1. Format - The shows I watch have two separate formats:

A) One big challenge that consumes the whole episode. The winner of that challenge usually has immunity for the next challenge.

B) One small challenge which either provides immunity for the main challenge or gives the winner some significant advantage - then a larger challenge.

Immunity usually disappears partway through as the competition gets steeper.

The advantage to using a B-style format is I would have twice as many fun "hero games" to play with. The obvious disadvantage is that it will take up a lot more manuscript space. Which is dependent on ...

2. Number, Length, Format - The between-episode scenes are indeterminate, but I will be giving myself some rough guidelines for the word count of the "episodes" themselves - so how many players, how many episodes, how many go head to head in a finale will have a huge impact on my projected word count. Oof.

3. POV - With so many characters to start, doing a standard third-person POV seems dicey - though I've considered doing it from the POV of a non-player watching (the "prize" bride / groom). I've also considered doing the between-episodes scenes in deep third, and the episode scenes in camera-view third (no internal narrative), with brief "cut-scenes" in first or deep third person ... to simulate those in-studio sessions where characters briefly gripe / bad-talk about each other.

4. Decision Process - Right now, I know only for definite that I don't want to decide before I start writing who will win. There's a possibility I may give the players a few numeric stats and determine their performance semi-randomly. (Being that if I don't like a result, I can always tweak.) That would mostly determine how the episode was written, not necessarily the outcome. I've also toyed with asking people to read episodes and "guest judge." Less sure about that - might be difficult to pull off.

5. Prizes - Yes or no? (Heh - short one.)

6. Worldbuilding - Since there is likely to be an element of, "X embodies Country 1," I could start with characters ... or I could change the way I worldbuild somewhat to focus on pointing up national quirks and character elements. Am I going to use non-humans yet? Not decided.

7. Other Stuff - I have seriously considered doing sketches for the characters before starting. Now, given my (lack of) artistic skill, that means I'd have to find image references ... but I think it could be cool. It would have no marketing value, it would just be a fun toy for me.

Thursday Thoughts

Spent some time this week doing a deep edit of a story I'm still on the fence about. When I first finished it, I was certain I would never submit it: I could just feel it was deeply flawed. After a reread recently, I found some interesting meat, so I decided to edit - expanding where I had taken some elements for granted and slashing out some of the clunkiness and complexity that bothered me. I see the shape that impelled me to write it, but I'm not sure it's there yet.

It's a mystery story in a setting that would also play well for a novel. The world is dominated / terrorized by Spiritwalkers, humans blended with spirits ruthless enough to fight their way back up from the underworld. The possibilities of corruption in the system, the question of whether a murderer is aiming for the spirit or the host ... lots of fodder. The way I ended the story is ripe for a sequel, with the investigator's personal circumstances changing drastically. If I didn't have so many ideas for novels that I love, I might consider retooling it. Maybe a sequel story at some point, instead?

I've also been working on (much) shorter works. I have a list of forms / styles I want to try - originally five, two of which I've completed and three more to go. One (completed) was poetry; the others are flash fiction.

And to the opposite extreme, I have decided that I am officially going for the reality TV novel idea - more on that later.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Goodreads Review: Split Heirs

Split HeirsSplit Heirs by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came into this book with high hopes because Esther Friesner is one of the authors. Unfortunately, while the book is madcap and amusing, it fails on one major count: the humor is so broad and exaggerated - things carried beyond their logical extreme - that it's hard to suspend disbelief or develop any empathy with the characters. That works fine in a short story, but over a novel, it's jarring and makes it difficult to maintain tension.

That said, once into the book, it's entertaining enough to watch - with amusing turns of phrase and event - that pages keep turning. The plot was well-paced and bounded along with some off-beat twists that I appreciated. However, I still feel I could have walked away from it any time.

I would give this 2.5 stars, but will be generous and round up.

View all my reviews

Another Soundtrack

I don't have iTunes, but this is still pretty cool! This is the soundtrack for the recent issue of Sybil's Garage, which contained my poem Emigrant: