Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

So I came to a realization today:  writers need to be whole-brained people.

This may require some explanation.  Most of you have heard of the Left Brain, Right Brain theory, where the left brain controls logic and the right controls creativity - the thinking brain and the feeling brain.  (It's a lot more complex than that, but bear with me.)  You may not have heard of the other component:  the further division into frontal ("higher" processes) and basal (more instinctive processes).  This means the brain has four quarters, or:

Frontal Left:  Logical, analytical
Basal Left:  Order, organization - "the rules"
Frontal Right:  Creative, experimental
Basal Right:  Emotional, interpersonal

If you're familiar with Tarot, another useful analogy is to align the quadrants with the minor arcana:  swords, pentacles, wands and cups, respectively.  (If you're not "into" Tarot, this just confused you more.  Ignore it.)

Anyhow, I looked at this and realized how much a good fantasy writer needs all of these. It looks like this:

Frontal Left:  Construct an internally consistent world where special powers / elements are carried out to their logical conclusion.  Plot coherency - does it make sense for X to do Y?
Basal Left:  Organize and track information so a character's eyes don't change color every chapter.  Grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.
Frontal Right:  The fundamental creative juices.  Everything from the first "what if?" to the writing itself.
Basal Right:  Understand human emotions, incorporate them into the story, and draw them out of readers.

And that's not even getting into the editing process - which, while it may be more of a left-brained process, also requires contributions from the right brain:  creative solutions to plot-holes, gut feel about the best route to take ... your mileage may vary depending on your revision process.

So those are my thoughts on the whole-brained writer.  Of course, this doesn't have to be restricted to fantasy:  all stories require these elements, including worldbuilding ... even if that world is your corner store.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Thoughts

This week, the thoughts have been shifted to another day of the week so I can be thoughtless on Thursday due to tryptophan.  I can't promise this post will be any more inspired than that particular bit of obnoxious alliteration.

With my most recent sale, I'll be moving on to edit / tidy up "Splinter Cell," another of my short stories set in the Flow-verse.  That means I now have four:

Xmas Wishes - now available from Gypsy Shadow Publishing!
A Dose of Aconite - in submissions
Splinter Cell - up for editing
Untitled - currently under filename "KierryDealWithDevil" (no, not the literal Devil, folks) - may or may not be submitted, as I'm not too sure of the ending ... it relies not so much on the main character as a secondary character responding to his actions.

I also have one potential plotline to write and another story sparker involving the DC Metro.  For me, who is always exploring new worlds and concepts, this is a fair number to have in the same setting, but I'm hoping some of them will draw readers to the novel.

I do have to be careful with the implicit timeline.  Since Flow is set in 2007, and the potential sequel kicking around in my head will probably be 2010, I need to make sure that the stories agree with this timeline in regards to how the two main organizations - the water-witches and the Borderwatch - interact.  This is not too hard, as status quo is something of "cold war," but I don't want details to contradict, even when I'm writing forward, back and to the side of myself.

Lightning Strikes sold to Kaleidotrope!

Lightning Stikes - the story of an augur struggling to find her sister in a city overrun by centaur barbarians - was just purchased by Kaleidotrope for publication in late 2013!  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

I have a twice-monthly routine for checking on submissions, and it just so happens that this Thursday falls on one of those days, so I thought I'd take this post to talk briefly about the business end of writing - or at least, the submitting end.  So - dry deserts ahead!

I have my own system for submissions that's always worked well for me.  I keep approximately eight stories and three pieces of flash fiction or poetry in circulation at any one time.  (Obviously, there's some overlap in the markets, but there are enough venues that accept only poetry and/or flash, and conversely venues that don't accept it, that I feel justified in running separate "tracks" here, as it were.)  

If a story is rejected, it goes right back out again unless:

1)  There's a particular place I want to send it, and they're currently closed to submissions (or I already have a piece there); or
2) I receive commentary that I feel is merited and decide to make the changes.

For agent querying, I start with three queries, and every time I get a response, I send two more out until I have a total of a dozen (at which point I go back to 1:1).  This ensures that I'm not trying to do a ton all at once.  At least, that's the idea:  I've only done this organized plan the once, with Journal of the Dead, but it's worked well, so if I have to keep querying ... at least I have a process.

As for the twice-monthly routine, it's to check up on all this.  I go down my tracker, check the response times of the market (or agent), and if it's been significantly over the listed amount of time, a receipt query letter goes out.  (With agents, I'll send an inquiry only if their website doesn't state that they don't respond for rejections, obviously. ... oh, wow, there were a lot of negatives in that sentence.)  I figure out "significantly" by something between formula and gut feel - proportionally more time for markets that have a longer lead-time to start with, if I've worked with a market before and know they're a smidge slower than advertised .. etc.

So that's submissions side of it for me.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

So early this week, I got completely absorbed in this:

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

It's an online adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in the format of a web blog.  I originally got drawn in because it was cute, clever and put together in nice, bite-sized chunks, but I soon became intrigued by the concept and format.  The bulk of the story is told in summary (and often, dramatic re-enactment by the main character and whoever she can draft into donning a goofy costume element) ... in fact, until well over two-thirds of the way through the run so far, none of the key scenes in the plot occur on-camera.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed when this changed:  I was absolutely fascinated by the way that the whole story could be told in summary, gossip and supposition, filtered purely through the eyes of the video blogger(s), and yet you were able to see that the truth was not necessarily what Lizzie presented.  The authors also do a great job of incorporating other social media into the story, and even add a video blog from the point of view of the usually-reviled Lydia.  It's really rather mesmerizing.

On the other hand, I can see why the other characters needed to be introduced.  There is a point at which it becomes unsatisfying never to see them directly, especially when they so deeply impact the lives of the on-camera cast.  I hope that as the project continues, however, that these guest appearances will be kept to the dramatically necessary minimum.

Interestingly, this method of storytelling recently ran into a limitation:  a letter which, in Pride and Prejudice, the narrator keeps secret from the other characters.  However, to show it on the video blog would be to allow the other characters (who are viewers) to learn the information ... but to not-show it would conceal it from the real audience.  The video blog went the latter route, but (I think) did a great job hinting at what might be between the lines.

Of course, as a writer of fiction, I tried to think of how this might be applied in a short story.  It's trickier, because fiction is (in most cases) effectively summary:  a narrator - implicit or direct - relating what happened through their eyes.  Much has been made of the unreliable narrator, the storyteller who is outright lying.  So how do you recreate this effect in a more distilled fashion?

Here are a few ideas I came up with, of varying technology / setting assumptions.  Which do you like?  Do you have any others?

Told through servants' gossip
Told through emails
Told through newspaper clippings
An amnesiac having his/her circumstances explained by the other parties involved
Told as minutes of a meeting
Told as reports to a spymaster

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thursday Thoughts

I'm still ruminating on some personal thoughts I had during the World Fantasy Convention, so this post will address those ... but expect another fairly soon dissecting the writerly side of a recent media series I've been enjoying.

First of all, I realized watching panels that unlike in my harp career, I don't consider myself an expert or authority in the writing field.  I've been examining this outlook, and I think it's not entirely accurate.  It's true that my successes have been fairly minimal, but I have my own perspective to impart.  Writing isn't one-size-fits-all; you never know when someone else's odd habit or technique will click with you.

Second of all, I realized that I don't really consider selling books to friends and family a success.  Now, that doesn't mean I'm not happy and grateful that people in my life want to support me ... but that doesn't say anything about the quality of the book.  I want people to buy my book because it's a great book, or because I've said that something that interests them in me as a writer.  I want it to be about the writing.

Third of all, I very much need practice reading out loud.  (See Saturday's post and "the less said, the better.")  My mother suggested I try recording myself, and I thought this was a great idea.  However, to make it more of a "dress rehearsal," as I get more into it, I thought I might post some of them.  Of course, before I do that, I'll want to listen to some examples, so I'll be checking out some podcasts, including a CD I received in the WFC packet, Laurel Anne Hill's, and probably Podcastle.

Yep.  Because I need more to do ...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 4 - Looking Ahead

As I sit in the Toronto airport, blasted out of my mind with exhaustion, I try to gather my thoughts about the last few panels and some of the initial decisions that came out of the conference as a whole.

Maps In Fantasy Literature (Bill Willingham (m), Robert Boyczuk, Laura Goodin, Matthew Johnson, Sara Simmons, Jo Walton):  I was really intrigued how different this panel was from the one I (vaguely) remember at the last WFC.  Of course, they started with the idea of the obligatory maps, those that tell you what kind of book you're about to read, and reiterate that if you need to consult the map, something is wrong.  But then they diverged into the idea of whether or not the map should include things not in the story, what purpose that serves, the reminder that ancient maps weren't nearly as accurate ... and that often, maps were metaphorical, emotionally true even if they weren't literally accurate.  The panel also talked about the attiudes of travel, and that the "three weeks later" is in some ways very modern:  in older cultures, travel was infrequent and perilous, and even in modern England, the psychological concept of distance is far different than it is in America.  Even a journey of a few hours requires preparation.

One thing that was brought up was maps as agendas, and how the evil overlord's map is like to be very different.  I wondered if there were any books where two conflicting versions of the same map had been used, and got a recommendation - Tourists by Lisa Goldstein - although in that case, the maps are internal / plot-based rather than provided in the book.  There was also some intriguing discussion of maps that actually alter reality by their existence ...

Reality Made Fantastic, Or Fantasy Made Real (2) (Isobelle Carmody, Sally Harding, L.E. Modesitt Jr. (m), Greg Wilson, Karl Schroeder):  Another second take, this one much fresher on my mind ... and venturing into waters even further afield.  Modesitt picked up the moderator slot at the last minute and had a lot of thoughtful questions prepared - I was impressed.  (But not surprised:  every time I've seen Modesitt, he's been funny, eloquent and organized.)  Schraber is actually an SF writer who discussed his approach as seeking possible wonder within the constraints of the real world.  (Someone) state that reality was human nature; the fantastic was the way through which it expresses itself.  Carmody brought up the idea of the world resonating from the character, which is very much opposite the way I do things, but fascinating.  Much of the discussion focused on the use of language - of using prosaic descriptions versus poetic / fantastical descriptions, and using the turning point in the language to help signal the turning point in the story.

I went up to Wilson later - who contributed much of the discussion about this - and asked about how you make the speculative element a "surprise" in the context of short fiction, where, of course, the reader is expecting just that - or the story wouldn't be in F&SF, for instance.  He talked about focusing less on surprise than on turn of language and of making the story evolve naturally.  Sounds like good advice to me.

So now I sit in the airport, having had my flight delayed and now rebooked on an earlier (... than my original) flight, and I'm thinking back on the experience.  I've made a few resolutions:

Next year, I want to contribute more.  I want to attempt to get on a panel, though I suspect I may not have the gravitas for Brighton ... but I will try, whereas this year, I just chickened out.  I've decided I want to attend the banquet, read all the award nominees (if I can; sometimes "award-worthy" fiction just seems Literary (tm) for the sake of it, and nothing turns me off faster) and have my own opinions.

In January, I want to go back over my WFC notes thoroughly, distill story ideas, and actually write at least one of these.  I would like to buy some of the (multitude) books I've written down over the many WFCs, but I suspect I just won't have the money.

And if I am more involved and better read, maybe I'll party a bit more, too.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 3 - Sucking The Life Out Of Me

Today was a slower day as far as panels were concerned.  Beside lunch break, I spent two hours sitting at the BroadUniverse table with Laurel Anne Hill.  I was relieved she stayed, because I would have muddled through, but I am quite shy if I don't have a five foot instrument to hide behind and sound knowledgeable about, and she was also fun to talk to.  We discussed anthologies a bit; I've always been frustrated by my inability to find closed calls and invite-only anthologies.  Since my real love in short fiction is the anthology, not the magazine, this is something I very much want to change.

I keep haunting registration, waiting for them to put out the sign-up for Brighton (WFC 2013).  By now, I imagine the volunteers working the table are sick of seeing me.

On to the panels!

(With a caveat:  I only saw the first 40-some of this first panel because I wanted to make it to the BU table before the dealer's room was officially open, and I also missed the first few minutes of the next one I attended.  Neither was due to lack of interest, just timing and my desire to be diligent.)

Relevance of Revenants (Barbara Roden (m), Jeffrey Ford, Paula Guran, Michael Kelly, Kit Reed):  The panel discussed ghost stories as one of the last oral traditions - the stories kids still tell each other; the interest in scientific explanation of ghosts (a mention of EVP, which has always fascinated me); and the evolving of the ghost story to fit with modern settings and technology, such as cellphones, email and computers.  Doesn't the very concept of internet communication - disembodied figures floating through our lives? - sort of sound like a ghost story?  Paula shared a moving personal story that illustrated how thin the barrier between life and death can be for the next generation.

I came to this panel thinking, "Gee, I'm not really interested in ghosts."  Uh ... no, Lindsey.  I'm always writing about mediums, spirits, and really, if you look at it from a certain perspective, Journal of the Dead is one massive ghost story (and it's sort of Victorian, the age of ghosts ... hmm, that was totally accidental).  Even Flow has a ghostly apparition appearing at a crucial phase in the story.  And, of course, I think of Dead Like Me, which remains my favorite portrayal of life after death.  Hands down.

Eerily, I came out of this panel and noticed several tables with Kleenex.  My immediate reaction was, "What?"  Then I discovered there was a memorial service occurring concurrently in the neighboring portion of the ballroom ...

The Real World In Fantastic Fiction (Ian Drury (m), Donald Crankshaw, Geoff Hart, Kristin Janz, Christopher Kovacs Kenneth Schneyer):  "Reality is a crutch for people who can't handle fantasy."  This was an amazing panel, with a lot of thoughtful discussion about how to approach the verisimilitude in fantasy, such as:  pay attention to the consequences, especially in elements of the world where breaking basic assumptions of reality; consider the attributes of control and access when introducing magical elements that can muck about with basic economics (teleportation, anyone?); when using real world societies as a starting point, try to avoid modern judgment and see the society from within; aaaand ... do your research.  But, of course, it's not what you know, it's what you think you know and you don't - the unperceived needs of research.  I was also fascinated by a discussion of idiomatic language being central to a story, which is something I love to muck about with.  You see it a lot in Butterfly's Poison; it's a world with very little contiguous landmass, so there's a lot of water / ocean / sailing language.

The Changeling (Jeffe Kennedy (m), Holly Black Karen Dales, Graham Joyce, Sean Williams):  Another panel that got deep into the psychology and the deeper meaning / expression of fears that the changeling represents, more than just the outward shape.  I love fairy and what they represent (hi, Flow), so I adored this panel.  They discussed the protean, changing nature of the fairy, and the fact that it may be that they look just like us, and we don't recognize them because we don't recognize themselves.  The feeling of being a changeling was traced back by a few panelists to childhood experiences of deciding they must be adopted.  

(I remember my mother telling me a story about how she convinced her older brother that he was, and how much it traumatized him.  Of course, she said she found a document in the desk drawer, and my grandmother had to point out, "She's five.  She can't read.")

The panel also discussed the changeling story as a coming of age - stepping between two worlds and having to decide which to become a part of.  They concluded that fairies and humans are psychically interdependent:  one cannot exist without the other.  And fairies are also necessary to shift the blame and shame of society - scapegoating.  The case of Bridget Cleary came up, and I really want to get my hands on that account.  It's apparently online somewhere ...

It occurred to me that another variant of the changeling story giving parents an excuse to abandon unwanted children goes back to Greek myths, where many of the classical heroes were abandoned as children, sometimes by the order of the gods, sometimes by a jealous father ... but these children always were raised in good (sometimes better) circumstances by kindly rescuers.

Lunch break!

Special Guests Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon (interviewed by Fiona Patton):  These two seem like the perfect writerly couple - separate studies, strategic togetherness, brainstorming on road trips ... they were a blast to listen to, though they goofed juuuust a bit too much for my tastes.  I loved how Lackey discussed balancing writing with the other endeavors in her life:  writing until she runs out of brain juice, then switching to something else.  She also recommended a screenwriting book that sounded fantastic for writers, Save The Cat by Blake Snyder - first as outlining, but also valuable for characterization and even pitch.  Finally, the pair admitted that they had, every now and again, used fan sites to double-check facts on Valdemar ... which I think cracked the entire audience up.

Pencils, Pixels and Paint (John Picacio, Todd Lockwood, Charles Vess):  This panel featured three artists displaying works and walking us through the process of creation.  A lot of technical difficulties and snafus, but I was utterly absorbed by their various methods of working and how they let spontaneity influence their creativity.  Vess believed that paintings shouldn't be overly rendered, leaving viewers space to fill in the gaps.  Picacio has a fascinating technique of drawing in black and white, then creating paintings in the desired color scheme ... then overlaying and performing transparency in Photoshop.  I would give a lot of money to have enough skill in either to attempt this, because it sounds like so much fun as a creative process.  The color was also his way of introducing a chaotic, non-linear element.  Lockwood, too, mentioned the incorporation of chaos with a random pattern, to simulate organic forms.

After Twilight:  Whither The Vampire (Michael Rowe (m), Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, Sean Hayden, Nancy Kilpatrick, Rio Youers, Nancy Baker):  This panel was less interesting than I had hoped it would be, because the panelists got focused perhaps a bit too much on the Twilight phenomena specifically, but I still found they had a lot of interesting things to say.  They discussed the charting of sexual mores by the development of vampire fiction; the "Abercrombie and Fitch"ization (yes, really) of vampires by Twilight; the trivialization by reducing them to highschool; and that a fantasy that was originally of the other has become increasingly a fantasy of privilege.  They concluded that each generation is reinventing the vampire.

The fantasy of other vs privilege immediately made me think of the "vampires don't age" rule and how it's usually applied now - young and beautiful forever - versus ... well ... probably THE vampire for me is Claudia from Interview With The Vampire.  I'll admit I'm not well-read in vampire fiction, but she struck me like a lightning bolt.  If I were going to write in this particular vein, I think that's the angle that's most interesting to me:  the vampire who is eternally stuck at the wrong age.

Dinner break!

Broad Universe RapidFire Reading (Kathryn Sullivan, Brenda Carre, Me!, Ada Brown, Laurel Anne Hill, Carol Berg, Julia Dvorin (m), Cat Rambo, Heather McDougal):  Short excerpts from a wide variety of fiction in just as many styles - a great sampler of female writers.  We had an unexpectedly large audience, too.  Ladies, you all were excellent - dramatic, funny and enjoyable to listen to, and I was glad to meet those of you I hadn't before.  Of my own contribution, the less said, the better.

I found that I shared a table of contents with Ada Brown - in the compilation issue of Crossed Genres she brought with her, no less!  Her "Nadirah Sends Her Love" (Tragedy) appeared with my "Bird Out Of Water" (Opposites) in Quarterly #1.

Friday, November 02, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 2 - Charles Dickens' Chickens

This was a remarkably long day, even though I skipped a panel (a repeat topic with different panelists) for lunch and other sundry organization attempts.  As before, I'll talk about the panels first, then some personal thoughts that arose from them that don't necessarily directly relate to the conference.

First, though, I want to comment generally on what an amazing, eloquently, witty, funny group of people all these panelists were.  I think there was more uproarious laughter today than I can remember in a long time, and not just in the humor panel.

Faith And Fantasy (Jonathan Oliver (m), Ada Milenkovic Brown, Bill Willingham, James Moore, Kari Sperring):  One of the panelists -I think it was Willingham - described his upbringing as Jewish and Catholic, which meant he had to go to confession, but he was allowed to bring a lawyer.  They talked about the difficulty of removing belief from culture, how it serves to help us deal with not being the center of the world, and Welsh-born Sperring offered a hysterical rant about the cliche fantasy where the evil, monotheistic patriarchal religion persecuted the benign Celtic witches.  The idea of quantum physics entered it near the end, in the sense that if you go deep enough, we are all made of nothing ... and if the universe is infinite, then by definition, we are, in fact, at its center (and so is every other point).

Humor In Horror and Fantasy (Michael Plested (m), Sarah Beth Durst, Nalo Hopkinson, Tanya Huff, Patrick Weekes):  This was a great panel, and I was struck by how different it was from the perspective given at the Whimsical Fantasy WFC in 2010, though some of the same points predominated - that humor can be very sensitive to time period, but that character humor is universal.  Other thoughts:  it's funny because it's true; humor as a coping mechanism; faithful execution of an absurd premise; laughter as a way of bringing people together.  One writer said they loved unintentional character revelation:  a statement that seems normal to the character, but brings the reader up short and tells them a lot about a twisted world view.  Durst earned my appreciation by stating how much she hates characters embarrassing themselves as a source of humor:  she has to look away when it's on TV.

Another interesting possibility:  humor that is relevant for the characters, but the reader doesn't get, as a way of illustrating the alienness or difference of a culture.

Defining Urban Fantasy (Linda Poitevin (m), Ginjer Buchanan, David B. Coe, Adria Laycraft, Tim Powers, S.M. Stirling):  This panel confirmed a lot of the thoughts I had in the beginning of Oct about the growing definition in the field and distinction between urban and contemporary fantasy.  It has become its own thing, where the city setting, the close, noir voice, the grit, and often the female protagonist, have become critical elements, with some cross-pollination with paranormal romance.  Ultimately, the publisher on the panel, Buchanan, said it's a matter of sensibility.  They also discussed the importance of using as much real world "lumber" as possible to ground the setting.

They Call Me The Wanderer (David D. Levine (m), Rajan Khanna, Stefon Mears, Robert V.S. Reick, Patrick Rothfuss):  This panel proved both very philosophical and very specific, isolating the true wanderer, who has lost his place or cannot return, from the traveler, who has a destination or a home.  The wanderer has both a lot of power as a source of information, but is also continuously an outsider.  One panelist (can't remember who, alas) discussed traveling as building up a charge, and arrival as its release ... but the wanderer never truly arrives, so he maintains that electricity of potential.  They also discussed the wanderer more broadly as an isolated figure and that the journey might be in time (such as vampires, the Wandering Jew, other immortals) as much as place.

Gothic Fantasy Noir (Elwin Cotman (m), Dana Cameron, Gemma Files, Elizabeth Hand, Rhiannon Held, Nicholas Kaufmann):  This panel was far more intriguing than I had anticipated, comparing the conventions of the noir and the gothic and how they blend together in urban fantasy.  They discussed the idea of a secret culture and how it operates in our world:  one way of practice at home, another as soon as you walk out the door.  The idea of the apocalypse came up in discussion:  the gothic is a slow apocalypse; in other contexts, it's almost comforting, because you don't have to worry about the crushing details of mundanity.  By contrast, the urban fantasy offers more hope:  by giving real life phenomena you can't control (such as the rise of crime) a supernatural cause, such as a vampire boss, you can, well ... kick its tail.  And both the noir and the urban fantasy frequently feature a moment of sacrifice, where something is put right, even as the protagonist has to pay the price.

One point was made that I loved:  that too much grit is just as unrealistic than too much gloss, if not more so.

Here I took my break.

Bibliofantasies (Helen Marshall (m), Tina Connolly, Jennifer Crow, Michael DeLuca, Don Pizarro):  One of the best panels I attended today, this was a thought-provoking discussion of the qualities of the fictional book, of why it intrigues so many people.  The imaginary book, of course, is always more fascinating than any real tome could be, because our mind builds it up that way.  (One panelist commented that the real horror of such stories is the fact that we can never find them and read them.)  It binds the reader together with the character, because both are performing the same act, that of reading, and both are - or should be - changed by it.  They also discussed how the electronic age influenced this, and came to the conclusion that the nature of the barriers had changed, but they still existed ... and there will be always be tension between what one wants to know and what knowledge you have access to.

I brought up Jasper Fforde's books and asked for comments, and the immediate response was, "They're awesome."  Yep ... that's pretty accurate.

Special Guest Tanya Huff (interview by Sandra Kasturi):  This was an amazing interview - Huff is a warm, personable, funny woman who said a lot of things that struck a chord with me.  For instance, she always writes to an ending, and her outlines frequently phrases like "a bunch of stuff happens in the middle."  She says she hits two-thirds of the way through a book, suddenly has an "aha!" moment as to what it's really about, goes back to tweak ... only to find her subconscious has been designing it that way all along.  She also said that her personal recommendation is to stay away from your reviews, good and bad.  One doesn't need the ego inflation, and the bad review will stick with you more than the  dozens, even hundreds of good reviews.  I was also heartened to see how many people nodded along when she said as a child, she never realized The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was a Christian parable.  And ... she read D'Aulaire's Greek Myths as a kid as well.  Oh, how I loved that book.

New Twists On Accepted Myths (Marie Bilodeau, Mercedes Lackey, Virginia O'Dine (m), Meg Turville-Heitz):  This panel started on an aggravating note, the discussion of cultural appropriation and even the claim that one should possibly avoid taking on a mythology to which one has no personal connection.  Oh, this is such a pet peeve of mine.  Why should any mythology be more sacrosanct than another?  Why should happenstance of birth define what I "should" write about?  An audience member pointed out that this wariness can manifest as racism and a form of censorship, and drew the response from the panel that truly, any good writer needs sensitivity to their subject, regardless of its source.  I'll go with that.

The panel otherwise focused on how myths move through time, and that the authentic ones can't be divorced from culture and the progression of history.  The anthropologist in the group commented it was fascinating how historians place so much importance on found objects, not realizing that just because it was preserved, doesn't necessarily mean it was essential.  Ultimately, mythology is how people understand the world, and create mythos have to embrace that.

I mentioned Ladyhawke, which is a fantastic example of a wholly invented myth that completely fits the themes and tropes of its originating culture.

So I said I wasn't going to buy any more books, but Patrick Weekes (see the humor panel) described his book, The Palace Job, as a humorous fantasy take on a heist story, ala Ocean's Eleven, and I pretty much couldn't summon up the willpower NOT to buy it.  I am vastly looking forward to this one.  How could it not be awesome?

Today, my writer thoughts were mostly about the Citadel, my setting where the gods of all the worlds have mysteriously vanished, leaving mere humans to use the tools they've left behind to serve as stand-ins.  I've had a story published in this setting:  The Weather-Woman, which appeared in Reflection's Edge and was basically a romance.  But I had a brainstorm:  in the story, which was the last novel I've ever abandoned outright (which I did because I think I was 60,000 words in and I realized I hadn't even gotten to what I thought was the meat of the story), I had decided I was going to reveal what really happened to the gods.  It struck me that it's far more interesting to leave that nebulous, a setting point outside of the main conflict.  Of course, there goes (more than) half my plot.

I'm also thinking through my FWO challenge story, which is being obnoxious in that it wants to start much earlier than I had originally intended for an ensemble piece - but I have an opening image so clear and vivid it has to begin there.

Considering this and how complex the zombie story is turning out, I think my brain is telling me if I don't work on a novel soon - and writing, not editing - there's going to be a revolution.

Oh!  Almost forgot to explain the title:

Met Sheri Lane today, and it turned out she grew up in Cincinnati and found out in her research that Charles Dickens did a book tour in our city.  Promotion was important even back then.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

WFC 2012: Day 1 - Enter The Bagpipes

This post comes in two parts - first, commentary on events and panels, and then some related thoughts / decisions of mine.  I'm going to assume most folks are interested in the former, so feel free to stop there.

Registration came this morning with a massive bag of books, more than I remember in previous years and some that look very intriguing.  As always, there was a swap table in case someone already had a book or something else looked better.  I was disappointed, however, to notice that there were apparently no anthologies in the book bags, so I told myself I was allowed to purchase one.  Just one.  No, really.

I also assisted with setting up the first of the freebie tables, since they weren't up that morning.  This means I got my bookmarks and cards out first.  Kathryn Sullivan had the excellent idea (particularly for a writers' conference) to create pens, so I'm actually using one of hers to scribe notes with.

Also walked out the rooms and noticed that the two locations for panels on Fri-Sat-Sun could not be further apart.  Oof.

Next stop - panels!

Whither The Dark Arts? (Stephen Pearl (m), Richard Gavin, David Sakmyster and Derek Kunsken):  The panel discussed psychic detectives, whether the concept is alive and well, and how it plays out in modern fantasy.  As happens in so many of these concepts, the panelists took a particular delight in debunking the panel title and the flavor text.  A lot of intriguing example works were mentioned, such as Charles Stross' series that combines computer IT with something like the Cthulhu mythos, a work whose author I didn't catch named Zeus City, and mysteries featuring angel Remy Chandler.  They talked about how so frequently, the two worlds of the psychic detective - the mundane world and the speculative one - overlay each but don't interact; the analog (or lack thereof) with the hardboiled detective and the knight-on-white-charger phenomena; and the narrative power of mysteries:  ask a question and the reader will hang with you until it's answered.

I asked here about the difficulties of balancing an occult power that could potentially end a mystery before it starts - for instance, the medium who can speak to the deceased and asked who killed them.  How do you keep coming up with mysteries in these circumstances without it feeling contrived?  Not that - as I think about it more - regular mysteries are immune to this:  think of how many people just happened to drop dead around Jessica Fletcher ...

The Wilderness Within (Eileen Gunn (m), John Clute, Nathan Crowder, Lois Gresh, Matthew Moore):  Such cosmic irony in the timing of this panel.  It was meant to imply that the exterior wilderness has given way to a more internalized, urbanized form ... but the topic that infused much of the dialogue was that of Hurricane Sandy and what she demonstrated - the malice of the world, our belief that we have a much bigger place in it than we do, that we can control it.  It was pointed out the Puritans thought the wilderness was evil; we've evolved beyond that view, but we're sometimes still conflicted by it, balanced between fear and respect.  There were also a few anecdotal stories that evolved into a comparison between a sea of elk and a sea of outlaw bikers.  (Thank you, Eileen Gunn.)

Opening Ceremonies (Gary K. Wolfe introducing Guests of Honour and Special Guests):  This was only about fifteen minutes long and basically consisted of an introduction to the guests of honor and expressed hopes that we could all hit the bar.  It was prefaced by a piper in full dress, and I had to explain to the poor person sitting next to me (hi, Folly Blaine!) why I had just said, "Get me a shotgun."  That is:  why yes, harpers and bagpipers have an ongoing feud.

Reality Made Fantastic, Or Fantasy Made Real (Garfield Reeves-Stevens (m), Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Judy Reeves-Stevens, Kat Richardson):  (Mercedes Lackey was, regrettably, still en route at the time of this panel.  Safe journeys, Ms. Lackey!)  First of all, it needs to be mentioned that apparently, Patrick Nielsen Hayden gets tweets from dyslexic Neil Patrick Harris fans.  The Reeves-Stevenses (... no, I don't know if that's the proper plural.  Is it like Jacks-in-the-box?) are into film and media tie-ins, and had a lot of interesting things to say about approaching the fantastic element.  For instance, when pitching a Witch World pilot, they found they could take two angles:  start with the fantastic world, then introduce the modern character, or start with the modern character and then pull back to the world.  PNH stated that that many books that are "almost publishable" are those that have too much invention, too fast, and Kat Richardson drew a parallel to The Matrix:  you can only swallow one pill at a time.

Another very interesting concept was that of imagination overhead:  both for the reader, who has to have the capacity to encompass certain ideas, and for the writer, who has to use the proper frames of reference.

I piped up with the third imagination overhead:  the character.  I asked the panel to comment on suspension of disbelief, when it's too fast, when it's too slow, and they generally agreed that the most important part was it had to be appropriate to the character.  Richardson commented that she almost found it more annoying when the character suspended disbelief too fast.  It was also pointed out that many modern transplant stories involve characters who themselves have read fantasy or seen recent pop culture examples, like the Lord of the Rings movies or Harry Potter.

Music Hath Charms (And Terrors) (Charles de Lint (adhoc m), Robert Eldridge, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Neil Williamson):  Ellen Kushner couldn't make it, so de Lint sort of got shanghaied into moderating.  I loved this panel, and it focused more than I had expected on the incorporation of music that really interests me:  when it's not overt / obvious, a musician character, but the influence of musical themes and the presence of music in a story.  De Lint commented he "scores" his fiction, using musical devices, such as staccato language, to convey mood.  I got (too) many recommendations of fiction to look up.  In particular, I want to look up Williamson, because he apparently has stories that are intended as musicals:  narrative prose, but all the dialogue is intended to be sung.

PNH discussed something which I was surprised I didn't know about, given my focus / study on the Renaissance era:  gallery music, which was essentially pub musicians brought in to play church music from the galleries, and their very rousing, toe-tapping renditions of what are typically thought of as stately church hymns.  It's a backwards take on what I'm familiar with, the religious borrowing and "taming" of traditional music.  Also covered:  music as pre-verbal structures of feeling, genre expectations in music itself, and the idea of avoiding a detailed description of magical music and illustrating it by the audience's reaction.

I took a moment to pipe up about my experience with a Scandinavian music class, where the teacher pointed out a certain comma end-of-phrase structure, and told us that it was present in the language, as well.  This really struck me as an illustration of the bond between music and language.

Our Monsters, Our Selves (James Alan Gardner (m), Lena Oakley, Ellen Datlow, Christopher Golden, Richard A. Kirk):  Great panel - way better than I expected it to be, considering it wasn't a topic of huge interest to me.  There was a surprisingly involved discussion of zombies, including as a metaphor for resurrection.  And I finally heard an explanation of the phrase "uncanny valley," which I had just taken for granted, courtesy of Oakley.  It actually comes from computer science / robotic development, where scientists tracked on a graph that humans become more empathetic to a robot the more human it looked - until the point it became *too* human, at which point the empathy drops sharply - hence a "valley" in the chart.

Other topics touched upon:  monsters as perverted versions of humanity; making something monstrous potentially allows you to draw it out and make friends with it; the fear / attraction of breaking taboos.

At this point, the panels are over for the day and I am feeling sort of like a zombie, myself.

I took some personal notes during all this, too.  I jotted down the story idea I had come up with waiting in the cellphone lot and watching the pair (they looked like mother and son to me, but I'm not so great with ages; they could have been a couple) in the neighboring car.  And I got some great ideas for the zombie story (yes, you read that right) I've been mulling over, in particular to use a "superstorm" such as Sandy to delay the kind of military reaction that would "realistically" shut down such an event.

Especially in the monsters panel, I keep hearing reinforcement for my newborn zombie idea.  I'm doing it "right" and tapping into the elements that I want to tap into, going into directions that bring out the kind of story I want to tell ... even though zombies aren't my usual tools.  I really want to work on the science aspect - not of the zombies themselves, but of a consequence that I think makes this is an unusual take.  It's the pivotal point of the concept, and it was inspired by two photos I got at a zombie walk.  (Yes, you read that right.)

I also purchased two books.  I only brought American cash with me to discourage myself from buying stuff.  This has ... sort of worked, but it's only Thursday evening.  Anyhow, the two were Booklife, by Jeff Vandermeer, which looked like a great resource for a writer not just limited to writing, and Rum and Runestones, an anthology of fantastic pirate stories from the BroadUniverse table.  I picked this one partly to support BU and Laurel Anne Hill, who rode to the rescue in starting up the table today.

Finally, I made some plans for the next few months.  Haven't figured out how my editing will dovetail, but next stories:  FWO November challenge; cellphone lot couple; prep and then write zombie piece ... and in January, I want to go back through my notes for all the prior World Fantasy Cons and strip out specific ideas and recommended reading.

As an aside, I got to recommend Connie Willis' Inside Job to someone today.  I really can't speak highly enough about the novella - it's awesome.  Great meshing of supernatural elements with a historical persona, and (coming from someone who hates titling) it has an absolutely perfect title.