Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

Finished my time mage story a few days ago, which I wasn't entirely sure I was going to have completed before the end of the month ... maybe a bit of time magic leached out of the story into my fingers.
I just did an edit with Darwin Garrison for the reprint of "Fatecraft" (forthcoming soon) and was very surprised by several things when rereading the story. First of all, just how hyper Pazia is - she has a lot of energy and determination. Second of all, there's this reference to clockwork ruins throughout the world that just begs exploration - and I had totally forgotten about this.

Third of all, two moons. Two, Lindsey. Gosh, I hope I haven't contradicted that in "Natural Selection" or "The City of Lanterns."
I find this issue with short stories: since I don't do worldbuilding or take notes, all these aspects are found only in the stories themselves, which means rereading or skimming to recover key details. It may be part of the reason why I don't do many series stories.
In this instance, what I found throws a wrinkle into the idea of a novel in this setting. I had been thinking of a mystery, closely involving Kalliniar (the light-mage from "The City of Lanterns") - but those ruins, they beckon. The two concepts seem contradictory, so which way I'd jump is now a mystery. No pun intended.
6/23 - 6/29
Word count: 2,621

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

GoodReads Review: Familiars

FamiliarsFamiliars by Denise Little

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This anthology offers stories about the mage's faithful companion, the familiar, and promises to depart from the usual cliches with new and different interpretations. Unfortunately, it fails on this account. Most of the stories do involve cats or dogs - which seems to be to be the obvious anti-cliche of the familiar world - and the familiars generally play an expected role in the story. (There is one tale where the familiar is particularly clever, which I won't identify because it spoils the ending ... but it's the only story where I felt the familiar was an intriguing, different sort of beast.)

I initially was going to give this anthology three stars, because most of the stories are passable and entertaining enough, and a couple shine: the riotous (if somewhat loosely plotted) "First Familiars," by Laura Resnick, which manages to take on the Clinton's pets and still marvelously avoids partisan commentary; and "This Dog Watched," by Von Jocks, where magic, love and the power of words blend together into a poetry of their own. However, many of the stories seemed uneven, bland or incomplete, and the final story is a bewildering eighty-nine page epic where I still couldn't tell you exactly what happened and why.

I also found the description of this anthology somewhat misleading, because a large majority of the stories are contemporary, with only a few set in secondary worlds. With so many options for familiars in different societies, I was a bit disappointed by this. Not that I mind modern stories, but I feel the description of an anthology should be more upfront about the contents.

In the end, most of the stories were a decent read, but predictable or forgettable.

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Big to Little or Vice Versa?

I've reached the point in fantasy / mystery novel work where I'm starting on character profiles, and I wondered ... for those of you who do work in advance, whether writing descriptions, doing mock-interviews, or whatever it is you do to get a handle on your characters - do you usually start with the main character and work your way down to minor members of the cast, or do you start with fringe characters to get a feel for things and work your way up?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Snippets

Here's a bit from my science fiction novel-in-editing, Scylla and Charybdis, where I ponder a possible future of books:

The library was an austere rose-marble building with a dome ceiling and two abstract figure sculptures for front pillars. Pulses of light passed through their glass limbs, mimicking features. Inside, two doors led into massive chambers on either side, but Anaea’s attention was drawn to the central dome and the encased pillar there.

“Central terminal,” Gwydion explained. “More comprehensive and faster than using the link.” The other rooms were for group holographs, school programs and tours. Past the terminal was a series of isolation doors.

Anaea pressed herself up against the isolation doors with a little cry of astonishment. In that sealed, regulated environment stood shelves upon shelves of real books: massive hardbounds, some with plastic, others velvet or vineskin, paperbacks staggering in untidy lines, and everything in between.

Labels on the shelves divided them by subject and origin. She could see two sections that dated to before landfall on Elysium.

“Oh,” she said, warmed by some ancestral feeling of ownership. Her hand uncurled against the glass.

“I feel the same way,” he said. “It’s silly, I know, old-fashioned – but something about the fact they don’t change, that every word is permanent, speaks to me.”

“I like that they’re not dependent on anything else,” Anaea said. “A world to themselves.” Like home, she thought, and felt a twinge of regret.

To assuage that sickness, she pondered the idea of working here, the meticulous attention to detail and the constant guard against decay. New books must be printed occasionally for collectors or historians, but the originals were priceless. There was charm in the idea, but that might be the novelty.

Gwydion had moved away, speaking in soft tones to his link. He smiled ruefully when she turned to face him. “The officer I report to wants to speak with me,” he said. “I think it would be better if he didn’t meet you just yet. Will you -”

“I don’t need to be chaperoned,” she assured him. “I can find my way back.”

He slipped out. Apart from a few voices in one viewing room, she seemed to be alone. She studied the labels on the bookshelves, noticing the preponderance of fiction. The soft light blurred too much detail to read more than a few of the covers.

The directions next to the door sternly admonished that visitors must be accompanied, clean, free of food, beverage and disease, and that the decontamination protocols took two minutes during which it was crucial the visitor remain still. The implied castigation turned her elsewhere.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

My process with worldbuilding continues to sprawl in all directions - I keep remembering additional key details and backtracking to provide them for the relevant nations. What I last forgot was appearance and apparel. How appalling. Especially as one of the things I used to like to record in the past was what features certain cultures found attractive. It's an interesting / different way to look at appearance, I find, and it makes you (or at least me!) consider possibilities that don't have Earth parallels. This, to me, is always positive.

Not been writing near as much as I would like, but getting back into the groove more. I was mentally stopping up on my Ishene and Kemel story, and sure enough, there was a reason for it: a plot-hole I had to plug ... or at least toss dirt into. I'm not sure I entirely fixed it. Still, when I get "writer's block," it's my subconscious going, "Houston, we have a problem," so I try to stop and gnaw over what's going on rather than shoving forward blind.

6/16 - 6/22
Word count: 3,148

Monday, June 20, 2011

Anatomy of an Idea: Saplings

Warning: contains spoilers. Please read "Saplings" first if you're going to.

"Saplings" is easily one of the most peculiarly populated stories I've written in terms of the characters and elements I used. My initial inspiration for the story was to do a word-hop. This is a writing exercise I created for myself where I gather a list of words, put them in any order, and start writing. For every hundred words, I have to incorporate the next word on the list somehow.

With "Saplings," the word list was every "fun" word I could think of that started with H. I got some volunteers from to offer me suggestions, as well. I ended up with a sizable list, though not enough to take me through the whole story. So be it! If you look at Saplings carefully, you'll notice some of the more unusual H words popping out here and there.

Before starting, I needed some general idea of the plot. The word list suggested that an herbalist would be a good idea. I'm not sure where the idea to write about a character who watched royal / prominent children came from, but as I developed it, I realized I needed a reason for a young, fish-out-of-water herbalist to be entrusted with such responsibility. Ping! Nanny powers. (And even though I didn't use that term in the story, that's how I think of them.)

I quickly decided that I wanted the story to take a twist in that the child who was abducted was not going to be the prince or the High Sorcerer's daughter - but rather the gardener's son. My main character would probably assume that this was a mistake, but it wouldn't be ... and what kind of foe would hold a grudge against a gardener, a man of growing things? From there evolved the idea of using vicious tree spirits as my antagonists.

I didn't know how the story was going to end when it started, but as I hopped along from word to word, I realized that it had to somehow stem from her nanny powers. I only figured it out as I got much closer ... that her ability to protect had to overcome the odds, had to be central to the conclusion.

So that's "Saplings" in a nutshell. No pun intended. Ahem.

Saplings now up at Mindflights!

My story, Saplings - about an herbalist with what I can only describe as "nanny powers" - is now up at Mindflights. Check it out! Here's the direct link:


Update: I'm being told that, for some reason, the link isn't working for everyone - so the main Mindflights page is

Sunday, June 19, 2011

GoodReads Review: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. QuentThe Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen M. Beckett

My rating:
4 of 5 stars

This book gets four stars from me somewhat reluctantly, but the world and concept, the atmosphere and some of the beautiful passages carry it from three stars in other aspects. Take the socially rigid world of Jane Austen's novel, combine it with magic and given bookish heroine Ivy a mission to uncover the mystery of her father's illness, and you have the essence of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent. Other threads move through this novel - the adventures of dapper gentleman Rafferdy and his poor, struggling friend Eldyn, with the mysterious power to weave shadows - but Ivy's story is the centerpiece.

I confess that I have yet to read any of Austen's novels, though I've seen films of I think every book (including a bleary 2am viewing of Northanger Abby at a sleepover where I'm not sure the viewing millieu made the story more or less comprehensible), but I loved Jane Eyre (the book!) and I saw the influences of both very clearly and wonderfully here. The banter, the social awareness, it crackles and snaps, as alive as any character. Sometimes, I found the first person section was so close to Jane Eyre that it approached pastiche, but the world is deep, consistent and intriguing. It brims with conflict and history.

My main problem with the novel is that these threads didn't come completely together, cross or mesh in a convincing way. Emblematic of this is the way that the novel abruptly leaps into first person for the middle section and then returns to third person for the conclusion, picking up the threads of characters not seen for a hundred and fifty pages. Important events are glossed over or summarized, time compressed artificially to keep the action moving while still accounting (partly) for what happened during Ivy's narration. (I also found the pretext of writing imaginary letters to her father to be a thin justification for first person.) The net sum of this: it makes the initial section of the book feel like an extended prologue.

Indeed, that's indicative of a larger problem in the novel. So much happened in the book (particularly with the romantic storylines) that was summarized or skipped over, when I felt it was crucial to feel every moment of the characters and their response. I don't understand the logic of Beckett's choices of what to skim. By contrast, the final climactic scene felt somewhat ridiculous to me because of the large amount of minutiae the characters had to wade through.

I did like the way the Ivy and Rafferdy storyline played out. It would have been so easy for Beckett to take an uncomfortable and obvious route when they reunited, and I am very glad for it. (I can't be more specific without spoiling!)

I am not entirely reconciled to the use of magic in the novel. It seems to add insult to the injury of the social system and point towards a conclusion that women can only act successfully by influencing and directing men. There are some elements in the book that lead in the other direction, but I wasn't quite satisfied that they undermined this unpalatable message. I understand, of course, that Beckett isn't required to make his world "fair," but the way it was portrayed grated on me.

But in the end, this is a perfect example of a book that carried through to a satisfying conclusion while leaving fertile ground for a sequel, and one I will eagerly read.

Oh, and the title is awful. If one has to read over half the book before one has even an inkling what it means, it had better be a lightbulb moment, not just an affirmation of fact.

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Sunday Snippets

I decided I'm going to try a new weekly pattern: posting a snippet of a work in progress (or perhaps a story for sale) every Sunday.

Alas, I do not have anything specifically appropriate for Father's Day, so y'all will have to settle for a story in honor of the grandfather (paradox). In this story, Ishene (the narrator) is a time mage, and along with her bodyguard Kemel, is tracking a rogue time mage who seems to be trying to change history by preventing the destruction of a historical landmark. The pair have traveled back in time to that fateful day:

We stood on the banks of the Aysil, a river renowned for its voice. Bargemen called harmonies across the water as they poled past. The city of Riesden rose from the banks like an immense ship never to leave its moorings.

Kemel strode off with purpose. “Where are you going?” I called after him.

“To the Clocktower,” he said. “Where else?”

I shook my head. “If she senses us, she’ll change her plans. I want to find out where she’s been.”

“Always the historian,” he mock-grumbled. His face dropped when I didn’t respond to the humor. “Where to, then?”

We entered the city in the docks district. It was too easy, with near-past eras, to forget that it was the past at all: the moored ships had different lines and flags, but the activity on the docks and the technology used to move cargo was everything I had grown up with.

And Riesden in this era was a city straining towards the future, dabbling in clockwork and mechanics that were decades away from being perfected. The explosion of the Clocktower would cause them to check their thinking, look twice at progress for progress’ sake. Erase that, and the city could plunge into a larger disaster … if it even mattered, if the timeline could survive the paradox.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Good News, Bad News ...

Good news: by this point, I am about ninety percent sure I will not be tackling the second novel project that invaded my brain.

Why this is good news is because I really didn't want to be writing two novels simultaneously, or to end up in the situation I am currently, with two books to edit at once. (And I still haven't touched the other one ...) I just looked at the novel and realized that while everything in the story appealed to me, I wasn't doing anything new and I was treading a lot of cliches.

Bad news: I didn't come to this decision until after I finished the world and character work for the project. Hopefully, I'll come back to it and it's not wasted ...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I've reached the point where I'm doing too much again. I'm trying to: edit Scylla and Charybdis, write worldbuilding notes for my mystery project, and finish a story for the FWO monthly challenge, to be followed by a story for a special Gypsy Shadow Publishing anthology. What I want to be doing, by contrast, is writing the new novel. I need a cloned double, or at least a few extra hands!

With worldbuilding, I'm trying a middle ground. Generally, what I've done in the past is write exhaustively: build the world in intense, sometimes ridiculous detail. With Journal of the Dead, I tried to do very minimal worldbuilding (about a page before I started) and develop the rest as I wrote. I found that I had more trouble pushing that manuscript forward and resolving plot conflicts than I'd had in a long time, so that's how I learned worldbuilding was a necessary pre-novel step for me.

This time, I'm building the area with which the story directly deals in detail, and then drawing back to general statements, specific hints and flavor for other regions. And reminding myself to update my file as I go. Whether I'll remember that last part ...

Worried I'm going to bite off more than I can chew with this novel. Tackling a non-human first person POV is a risk; more so when their kind is extremely perceptive and intelligent - but doesn't understand privacy or deception. (A huge handicap in a mystery - but that's why she has an enchanter's apprentice to serve as her Watson.) I'm good for the challenge, but only time will tell whether I'm up to it.

6/9 - 6/15
Word count: 1,760

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Life Sentences

For a couple weeks now, I've been doing a quick daily exercise where I write a "hooky" first sentence - not connected to a specific project. This has turned out to be a lot of fun, and some of the openings seem to have a lot of promise.

I always try to start my stories with an implicit question of some kind and an element of character, setting, plot or some combination of the three. However, when I'm working on a new story, I typically know what these elements are going to be in advance. Some bits and pieces may change or simply be unknown, but I have the larger shape.

Where this has been different is I'm creating those same three elements in strokes of possibility. The world-story-character that results from these lines could be almost anything that meets the promise of the sentence. It's freeing, and it leads me towards ideas I might not have considered.

As an aside, I noticed that the last several were consistently getting longer, so I set myself a challenge to make today's very short. I ended up with:

I hated mourning garb: blue was not my color.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I've spent most of this last week working on edits for Scylla and Charybdis. I've made a lot of changes, and unfortunately, most of them have been additions - so I may have to devote an editing pass just to cutting words. I think I have a lot more work to do on this one yet, or I may simply get tired of it and call it good after another pass or two. ;-) Ahem.

In reviewing critiques, I've noticed that I sometimes take them in the other direction. That isn't to say I ignore them: quite the opposite. Rather, a comment will point up an impression the reader is developing that I didn't intend, so I rework the narrative to pull back / eliminate that impression or enhance a different one.

Invented example: let's say a reader asks me to increase the hostility between my character and her cousin. I might look it and go, "Augh, no! I only meant to imply that my character was grumpy, not that she's specifically mad at her cousin." So I step back the snarling comments and maybe add something more into the narrative about how it's not really the cousin's fault.

Quite frequently, in fact, I would say that reviewer comments make me revise in ways I am fairly sure the reviewer did not intend. ;-)

Anyone else had this experience?

I've done worldwork, but the only story writing I did this week was on a fairy tale-esque piece about a girl who attracted hats, and I finished that Sunday, so the word count is low.

6/2 - 6/8:
Word count: 823

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Novel Developments

I've been sitting on this for about a month, and believe me, the words have been welling up under my fingers and just about killing me - but I wanted to have the contract official and in hand before I ran down the virtual streets shouting to the rooftops. Received the contract in the mail today, so ...

Roll the drums, cue the fanfare, slash the bagpipes ...

My contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, has been accepted for publication by Double Dragon Publishing.

At present, I have no information on publication date or editing - so it is even slightly possible that Flow won't be the final title - but I will keep folks up to date as developments ... develop. Believe me, you will be sick of hearing about it. ;-)

To give a brief teaser, Flow follows the water-witch Chailyn, on dry land for her first mission, and Kit, a contemporary teen with mysterious powers, as they seek the man who killed Kit's mother ... a goal which catches the interest of the darkest of fairies. They must also deal with the Borderwatch, a zealous organization that hunts fairies and has been in a cold war with the water-witches for decades.

In the interim, I will be looking for homes for my short stories in this setting: A Dose of Aconite, Splinter Cell, and a third as yet untitled. The first two are from the POVs of Borderwatch agents.

Review: GUD Issue 6

From a GoodReads reviewer named Sabrina, about GUD Issue 6:

Really an outstanding issue. I don't think there are any weak pieces in this, but I'm writing this review months after having read the issue and the pieces that live on in memory as truly superior are Aliette de Bodard's As the Wheel Turns; Lindsey Duncan's The Naming Braid; Ferrett Steinmetz's In the Garden of Rust and Salt and Lavie Tidhar's The Last Butterfly. I remember Dispatches From the Troubles (Lou Antonelli); What Happens in Vegas (Caroline Yoachim) and Maisy's Many Souls (Matthew Sanborn Smith) less fondly but very vividly. They too are solid and beautifully polished works.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Brief Update

Not just one, not two, but three of my forthcoming publications are discussed here:

Fatecraft is a reprint; Loyal Dice is a prequel. I'm eagerly awaiting the artwork for the latter; I've been in contact with the artist over additional details I was surprised to discover weren't described in the story.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thursday Thoughts

I'm back!

Wait ... no one knew I was gone, did they? Ahem. Yes, I've been in Baltimore with the folks this past week. Got a fair amount of writing done, rested, recharged my batteries, and spent too much time messing with Quickbooks. (Long story ...) Last time I visited, we did some sightseeing - Annapolis, the Library of Congress, the Spy Museum - but this was a more relaxed visit, more focused on simple family time.

I finished my character notes on the project that attacked my brain and demanded to be written, and am now working on the world notes for the mystery. Since I don't want "bleed" from working on one and then immediately jumping into the other, I am going to keep a close eye on my progress. If I feel I am repeating myself, I will back off. But I actually think I'll be fine, because I spent literally weeks on just characters ... and that, to me, has a different feel than structuring the world.

My only qualm is the names. I'm afraid all the names are going to sound very similar. However, I am entirely not feeling like doing a naming language now, so I will have to come up with a scheme / structure to forcibly differentiate them.

Now that I'm back, trying to get some critiques on at least the earlier chapters of Scylla and Charybdis. Critiques make me (quite literally) ill - I've lost sleep when I think some might come in overnight. So I have to take it slow, but I also know I need to get out of my head occasionally, and an outside eye is a good way to do that.

This extreme reaction isn't from lack of practice, unfortunately: while I've not done full novels, I've had plenty of short stories run through critiquing. I just don't seem to have the capacity to relax about the process.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"Aeolian Harp" now out!

The Spring 2011 issue of speculative poetry magazine "Illumen," containing my "Aeolian Harp" is now available: