Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 0

Today, the majority of what I have to talk about is traveling and logistics, not writerly concerns, so feel free to skip ahead (when there's actually something to skip to).  I hope to entertain some of you with my haplessness, though.

Left earlier than I needed to today for the airport and had my bag checked by a butterfly. Oh, Halloween.  Spent a lot of time wandering around the concourse, just keeping myself in motion, which after the cumulative walking of the day ended up turning into a blister.  Really, I need to learn how to hold still.  I also bought lens cleaner - you know, for glasses? - for my laptop screen.  Because wow, really?

I had not just one but two heart attacks before boarding today.  First, I was called up for a passport check, which turned out to be routine.  Second, the woman scanned my boarding pass, I was halfway to the walkway, and then she said, "Wait a minute, miss .." asked me what seat I was in, and commenced serious-looking computer manipulation.  Net result:  I ended up with a seat closer to the front of the plane.  (Window, of course:  I love the ability to look out, even when it's cloudy.)

I spent an inordinate amount of time on the flight trying to come up with a name for Kit's future boyfriend.  Nothing seems to mesh ... and then as I'm sitting here, I suddenly realize that Alistair (or some spelling variant) would be perfect.  Thank you, brain.

Next up, made an utter idiot of myself at customs.  Asked the first agent if I had to pay any duties on the books; he assured me it would be handled further down the line.  The second agent said no ... and then I wondered if I'd heard his condition right, so I ran back and asked again.  Got a full explanation.  Sure he thought I was nuts.

Toronto was as drear and rainy as Ohio.  It was a longish (and expensive - oww) drive to the hotel, and unsurprisingly, the conference setup is in early phases, so I decamped to the attached food court for Thai food, then back to Starbucks for a ginger cookie and what is going to have to pass for breakfast.  (No, not another cookie.  Stop looking at me like that.)

(If I wrote with half as many parantheses as when I'm just casually writing, I would be edited to death.)

Looking forward to tomorrow!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

This will be my last Thursday Thoughts post before the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto.  Next week, I'll be blogging about the happenings of the convention, the panels I'm attending, the wonderful authors ... the whole atmosphere.

I'm not expecting any marketing miracles whilst I'm in Toronto, but I know that inevitably, the question, "What is your book about?" comes up.  I want to be able to answer it without stammering and saying nothing ... or rambling on for two minutes at someone who really wants an answer about as in-depth as when they ask, "How are you?"  No one really wants the detailed description of your headache and how you almost missed your alarm that morning; give us the CliffNotes.

So I came up with both short loglines and longer (but still brief) descriptions if someone turned out to be crazy enough to express further interest.  Mind that I don't expect to rattle these off verbatim, but I wrote these to give my brain a framework for what I might say.  Now, there are three variants of this question - my published book, the project I'm currently shopping, and the projects that are currently in progress.  So that leads to three answers:


Flow is a contemporary fantasy.  Teenaged Kit recruits water-witch Chailyn to hunt for her mother’s killer.  The pair run afoul of both fairy wrath and the attention of a human organization that hunts the supernatural.


Journal of the Dead is a mannerpunk-style fantasy set in a world where killing someone causes their mind to leap into yours.  Aided by her spirits, an unwilling executioner must fight royal politics to reclaim her son.

(Working On - Editing, Actually)

Scylla and Charybdis is a soft science fiction novel about a young woman from an isolated space station who escapes to the polar opposite societies left behind in the wake of an alien disease, and Who Wants To Be A Hero? is humorous fantasy asking the question:  what would happen if a Greco-Roman pantheon invented reality competition television?

... from this, I can only infer that my brain is hyper.  Wish me luck!

Monday, October 22, 2012

GoodReads Review: Thirteen Orphans

Thirteen Orphans (Breaking the Wall, #1)Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When college sophomore Brenda Morris' father drags her along to meet eccentric chocolatier Albert Yu, they instead encounter a sinister plot to steal the memories of the Thirteen Orphans - the descendants of twelve advisors and their emperor, exiled long ago from a land of myth. Luckily, some of the senior Orphans have survived, in particular the aging Tiger, Pearl.

The greatest strength in this story is the setting and the way the characters interact with it. The Chinese zodiac determines the nature of each Orphan, while mahjong forms the basis of the magic, in an impressively outlined system. I didn't fully understand the rules despite the (lengthy - more on that later) explanations, but I felt grounded in their reality. The backstory of the Thirteen Orphans continues to unfold, treating the reader to glimpses of an intriguing otherworld. The Lands of Smoke and Sacrifice fascinated me.

I also enjoyed other, smaller aspects of the setting. Lindskold does a nice job of dealing with the idea that there are other magical systems in the world (of course there would be!) without needing to delve into them. Pearl's backstory as a child star contemporary of Shirley Temple was also one of my favorite bits, though there were a couple points where I thought it was laid on a bit too thick.

And some of the characters are great - particularly Nissa, the Rabbit, her daughter Noelani, and the developing personality of Foster. I also really liked Pearl. Even Brenda's down-to-earth character provided a pleasant enough pair of eyes to view this new world. And we need the outsider, because there's a lot of complexity here.

Which leads me to the downfall of Thirteen Orphans: too much information and too much talking without progression or conflict. See my last review here (A Coalition of Lions) - there's nothing to say that a story with a lot of dialogue and very little physical action can't be tense and riveting, but far too much of Thirteen Orphans was expository and day-to-day, the process of making amulets, discussion of the Land's history, and a lot of logistical discussions that probably could have been summarized. Of course, Brenda, Riprap and Nissa come into the story knowing no magic at all, but I think the lessons could have been highly truncated.

And then - far too late in the book - when action finally does strike, it cools off for a negotiation session. Now, this is actually closer to the kind of dialogue I mentioned above, but it's still symptomatic of the overall problem. Finally, to my exasperation, during a key sequence near the end where the characters are split into two groups, there is an absurdly in-depth analysis of the contents of an apartment.

That notwithstanding, the book ends with a great twist I did not see coming, and given some of the things I liked about this volume, I would definitely pick up Nine Gates. I am hoping that since the "initiation" happened in this book, that future volumes will be less talky.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged for this blog chain by W.E. Larson - thanks!  Of course, as soon as I pondered it, I realized that I had a bit of a quandary:  not just one, but two projects currently in progress ... sadly, both in the editing process.  I tried to choose and then decided not to choose.

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

The first is Scylla and Charybdis; the other is Who Wants To Be A Hero?

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Scylla and Charybdis started out as a short story so long ago I can't recall the original genesis of the idea.  I received a lot of encouraging rejections for the story, but the sticking point was that it really felt like the opening sequences of a novel.  The basic germ of thought was, "What would happen in the wake of a disease that targeted only men?" and I developed two societies from there ... but I knew I wanted something of a milieu novel, and the best way to do it would be with an outsider, which is how Anaea and her space station home were created.

Who Wants To Be A Hero? started with a simple concept - translating the "reality competition television" idea into a secondary world fantasy.  It immediately occurred to me to conflate it with a Greco-Roman style hero.  There are lots of strong, common tropes to play with there, and the Greek gods are so terribly human that they seem to me a great template for the kind of deities who would watch such a "program."  But I knew I would need a continuing character or spectator; otherwise the winner would be too obvious.  That's how Ioweyn came into being.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Scylla and Charybdis is soft science fiction; Who Wants To Be A Hero is humorous fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

For Scylla and Charybdis, I only have one definite casting call:  I've always seen Anaea, the main character, as Emmy Rossum.  She's got that pale, gamine, wide-eyed look that I see in my head.  I could see Flick played by someone like Jamie Bell - or another actor with a roguish look and some visual awkwardness / out-of-jointedness.

For Who Wants To Be A Hero? I think Ioweyn would either be incredibly easy or incredibly difficult to cast, since she's a shapeshifter, and she doesn't even appear as a woman the whole time.  Moreover, there are subtle changes in her personality when she's "in character."  It might be really cool to see this done with multiple actors, with some kind of consistent identifying mark for the viewer.  (Obviously, this isn't necessary in printed text.)  Other than that, I don't have any clear thoughts.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

Anaea has lived her entire life on an isolated space station, but to save the life of Gwydion, a mysterious refugee, she flees and struggles to find a new home in the polar opposite societies left behind in the wake of an alien disease.

What would happen if a Greco-Roman pantheon invented reality competition television, with a country and a divine bride as the prize?

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am hoping to find an agent for my currently-circulating novel, Journal of the Dead, so if that is the case, I expect that I will be sending one or both of these his/her way.  Failing that, I will try to get an agent for these projects and then turn to those publishing houses that except unagented submissions.

Self publishing?  I know I don't have the marketing savvy.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I no longer remember, in either case.  Next question!

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

No comparisons really spring to mind for Scylla and Charybdis; I don't think I've encountered a milieu-focused science fiction novel in a while.  As for Who Wants To Be A Hero? I can't draw comparisons, but I'm sort of hoping that the way it acknowledges, even highlights convention without breaking the story might be familiar to fans of Thursday Next.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The voices in my head!  Okay ... bad answer.

As mentioned above, Scylla and Charybdis started out as a short story and I had multiple reviewers and at least two editors - including one I highly respected - mention that it really felt like the opening section of novel.  I finally heeded those comments.  Mind that by the time I had expanded what I had, what had been a 6,000 word short story became the first 40,000-50,000 words of the manuscript.

I could probably blame Who Wants To Be A Hero? on Top Chef.  Or Project Runway.  Or ... man, should I admit I watch all of those things?  Sigh.  But I definitely distinguish between skill-based, competition television versus things like The Real Housewives, and when I tried to watch The Apprentice, I pretty much realized I had hit my outer limit of both trash factor and focus on conflict.  That really isn't what interests me:  I much more prefer to see moments of human cooperation and generosity of spirit.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I think Scylla and Charybdis would appeal to fantasy fans, because the science is very soft and unobtrusive, and it has some fantasy sensibilities - as the name might imply.  I think it's a bit of an unusual take for SF these days.

Who Wants To Be A Hero? has a lot of in-jokes for people who are familiar with mythology - mostly Greek, but there's some Welsh, as well - and related literature (I rag on Beowulf a bit).  If I've written it correctly, it should also have that "armchair judge" feel - inviting the reader to root for their favorites, disagree with the judges, and be exasperated when that snake no one can stand keeps squeaking by.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

As previously mentioned, I was tagged by W.E. Larson, who talks about COG, his middle grade steampunk novel.

I'd like to tag:

Maria of Bear Mountain Books 

And ... you!  If you're reading my blog and you haven't been tapped for this chain yet, please consider yourself invited.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

Time to talk about technology.

No, I couldn't resist the alliteration.

One of the challenges of writing contemporary fantasy is that technology is always changing, especially with regards to the internet and connectivity.  These days, it seems the majority of the people can operate their phones as if they were miniature computers, playing games, pulling up maps or websites ... the list goes on.  (I am not one of those people.  My phone makes calls, period.  I have been known to (rarely) take pictures with it, but that's why I have a digital camera.)  This capacity only seems to keep expanding, so unless the characters are luddites, trapped in a blackout (hi, Revolution!), their magic interferes with the workings of technology (come to think of it, that may be why I've never noticed any discrepancies with the Dresden Files) or the absence of technology is in some way a plot point ... most writers will have to deal with it.

It's a problem made worse by the fact that it may take a year or more to write and then polish a novel (though arguably, you can make the necessary updates during this time), and unless you're lucky and have an agent, possibly a couple of years to find a home and another few to go from acceptance to publication.  What if something comes up in the interim that actually invalidates a plot point?

I have no solution for this except to weather the storm - or to visibly set your story in a particular year.  With Flow, the novel had initially been written with the intent that it was set in 2007.  After it was accepted, I debated for a bit and decided to leave it.  So modern readers may find the mobile disconnect a trifle odd:  Kit's cellphone is just a phone; Hadrian does his research from a laptop; and there is, wonder of wonders, a single reference to a pay-phone.  (Grant that it's in an old diner along the road which might even still have such a device today.  Maybe.)

Sure, science fiction has to put up with this, as well, but it's more likely to be on the order of after the book has been published - five, ten years down the line.  I actually dealt with this in Scylla and Charybdis - again with connectivity - and created a mental scenario, never explicitly discussed in the book, where society actually moved away from our current constant connectivity culture and then gradually back.  In one city the characters visit, being disconnected is considered a sign of personal freedom.

One of my favorite stories about the evolution of science and science fiction comes from reading Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice's Water Witch.  It's more of a science fantasy than straight science fiction, at least in tone and influences, and despite having been published in 1982, it has aged very well - perhaps because the story is more focused on the characters, the politics, and the ritual.

However, near the end of the book, there's a reference to a city that is disconnected from the rest of the world because it's not physically possible to run wires for communications across the distance.  I put the book down and giggled. ... then I picked it back up and finished it, but it's astonishing what we assume is impossible.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Whirlwinds and Rollercoasters

With success in hand, I feel comfortable divulging the project I've been cramming the past several days:  a submission to Harper Voyager's open call for their digital imprint.

I had initially intended to give this a pass, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I didn't have anything finished and edited within the desired word count, and second of all, being a die-hard lover of paper books, I was reluctant to put a project into a digital-only line.

Then the bug and inspiration bit at the same time:  I had Butterfly's Poison, which was the novel I finished before I wrote Flow.  It had seemed to make a strong showing:  Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy in Canada had requested the full manuscript. After so much time, I was dubious about the quality, but I figured I would attempt an editing pass and see what shape it was in.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the core of the novel was solid and far better than I had expected.  Most of what I needed to alter was straightforward:  clumsy wording, clarified setting points, enhanced emotional response.  As I approached the end, I learned of more complications:  HV's idea of a "short synopsis" was a ridiculously brief 1500 characters - estimated 250 words.  Let's face it, it takes me 250 words to say hello.  What I ended up doing was taking my original query teaser and expanding it to include the ending ...

But not before I got an unpleasant jolt.  I had decided to keep working until late this evening, spending as much time as possible cleaning up the novel ... and then about two o'clock this afternoon, I found out submissions had been closed a day early.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  It knocked the wind out of my sails.  I had put in an incredible amount of hyper-focused work to no purpose.

A few hours later, when I was sulking, feeling sorry for myself (no, really) and trying to get through an hour writing exercise, a fellow writer on the same forum commented that the closure had been a technical error, and submissions had been reopened.  I stopped the free write where it was (33 minutes in) and dove back in.

So as of about an hour later:  success.  The submission is on its way, and I feel weightless.

I decided a few things from all this:

1)  The "cramming" edit turned out to be really useful.  The earlier parts of the manuscript were still fresh in my mind even when I got closer to the end.  This is something I think I should incorporate into my process.
2)  Butterfly's Poison is a surprisingly solid manuscript.  Assuming it is rejected by HV (I am aware of how long the shot is!), I will keep it in my files as something to show my agent when I have one.
3)  Never give up.  Never surrender.