Friday, June 28, 2013

Stardust sold to Silver Blade!

I'm pleased to announce Silver Blade will be publishing my flash fiction story, Stardust.

This is the actually the first flash piece I wrote with a "looping" technique (the last word of the sentence is the first word of the next) - before The Hurricane Cavalry, which recently appeared in Penumbra - and I'm delighted to see it find a home.

My third piece with this technique is now in submissions (though there, the form is directly imbedded into the plot), so clearly, I need to write another ...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

So the next few days, for me, will be consumed with a massive event on my roleplaying game:  an alien invasion.  (This wouldn't have been my first choice, as I have no skill for either big battles or space-based scenes, but I've managed to find myself some events to hold for players, and I'm writing flavor news from around the game world.)  In working with my fellow staff-folk to build this event, I've been reminded of something ...

I am not a seat-of-the-pants writer.

I may seem like that on the surface because I don't outline plots in great detail, unless I'm dealing with short fiction where precise mapping helps me remain within a reasonable word count (which actually happens almost zero percent of the time, but I digress).  What I do, however, is build my world, scenery, characters and motivations to such depth that when put into motion, the plot flows naturally without the need for guideposts.

I've found this even more useful in gaming, because some of those characters, of course, don't belong to me - they belong to the players.  So I need to be able to roll with whatever decisions they choose to make.

None of this happens, however, if I don't start from a clear foundation ... and I like to have my map well in advance, so I can get comfortable with the lines.

Of course, I suppose this means that by the time I get back to Unnatural Causes (a Nano project I regretfully abandoned due to too many irons in the fire), it will be absolutely superb ...

Well, I can hope, right?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Today, I'd like to talk about the idea that, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."  I wish I could remember where I first saw commentary debunking this particular pearl of wisdom, because I would give credit where it's due - but at least I can clarify that these thoughts didn't originate with me.

First of all:  it's nonsense, and not only that, it's harmful nonsense, prompting people who *are* doing what they love and still feeling frustrated or stressed to secondguess themselves.  Every profession has aspects that are drudgery; every profession also has aspects that are bound not to be an individual's cup of tea.  (These aspects may or may not fully overlap.)

For instance, I adore performing and teaching the harp.  However, I dislike:

Making phone calls to clients.
Diagnosis of buzzing strings.
Explaining the limitations of the instrument to clients - no, I can't realistically pick up a brand-new piece of music in four days; no, I can't accompany a vocalist if the tune is in five flats; no, XYZ can't be played on a lever harp (though I can work some miracles and this rarely happens - the last tune I tried to work up and failed was personal, and it was "Til There Was You" from Music Man).  The lever harp has a steeper learning curve than many instruments, and even other musicians are sometimes surprised when I have to say "no" - or better, "I can, but it wouldn't be to a standard I would feel comfortable with for your event."
... okay, that was a rant.  Back to the list.
Special requests to learn a tune I can't stand (example redacted ;-))
Required standard repertoire I can't stand (Danny Boy and Wagner's Bridal Chorus ("Here Comes The Bride"), I'm looking at you)  (Conversely, I adore the Pachelbel's Canon, cliche though it is)
Cameras, especially for posed shots.  Get out of my face!  Or at least warn me so you only get the instrument.  It's the only part of the package worth photographing.
Long, narrow staircases.

From this laundry list, there's clearly some work involved in this occupation I love ... but if I were to omit any (or at least most) of these items, I would have difficulty booking jobs.  The same is true for any vocation.  I think few writers enjoy the process of submission and rejection; many also loathe editing or marketing (or both).

Let's play Devil's advocate for a moment.  Let's say your passion in life is gardening, but you hate tracking plant shipments and physically unloading the plants ... but!  An employer is willing to pay you to do just the part of the job you're interested in.  Someone else will do the tracking and the heavy lifting.  Sounds like you've escaped ... but now you have to deal with your boss' expectations and requirements, either clock in and clock out at specific times (convenient or not) or in some way record your hours ... the work has found you again.

Does that mean I suggest having any old job, because you'll never be totally happy?  Not at all.  The pleasure of doing what you love is hard to beat.  But expecting that there won't be any rough patches or places where you're just slogging along seems unrealistic to me.  Every occupation has its work:  you just have to find one where the good outweighs the bad to the point ...

Well, where you find yourself forgetting the bad and spouting, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."  But please don't.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

GoodReads Review: Outlaw Cook by John Thorne

Outlaw CookOutlaw Cook by John Thorne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather than a single, cohesive memoir, story or thesis, Outlaw Cook is a series of essays, divided into sections by a joining theme. The first part, Learning To Cook, had both an autobiographical and thematic arc, describing how Thorne developed his relationship with food and hunger. It was thus a disappointment when the following sections - Made To Taste and The Baker's Apprentice - diverged into an unordered discussion of various cuisines. The final section - The Culinary Scene - is a bit of a puzzlement with book reviews, but a couple of the pieces here are quite intriguing: the one on Martha Stewart and Cuisine Mecanique, the closing essay. It's an eminently appropriate ending and a perfect summation for the whole book.

Thorne has a distinct way of looking and writing about cooking, centered on a very primal philosophy of its uses. Even when not addressing his primary viewpoint, every essay in the book reflects this thesis. At times, he takes the whole thing to a pretentious degree ... which is ironic when the book argues vehemently against such pretention in the culinary field. Still, whether or not you agree with him as a reader, his discussion will make you think about your attitude towards cooking ... and why you hold it. (I came to the conclusion that my philosophy is almost entirely the polar opposite of his, which might color this review.)

Thorne's discussion of the history and physics of food is absorbing, though, and he takes a deep look at the cultural roots of each dish he considers. There are recipes a-plenty throughout this book, but it's not really a cookbook ... and Thorne would be the first person to tell you to be suspicious of recipes, so they are intended to be jumping-off points / inspiration. (Hand in hand with this, they were too simple for me - I noted only a few.) It's easy to see why Alton Brown was electrified by his point of view - I originally found out about this book from "I'm Just Here For The Food" - even though he took it in a completely different direction.

Even though I don't agree with a lot of this book, it makes for an interesting, thought-provoking read.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

Another blog post that starts with a sample of the internet's finest, one of my favorite bits of humor, which I will title only:

Commas Are Important

This never fails to make me giggle, and is a great illustration of the importance of punctuation ... though unlike most examples, this one distorts the meaning by addition rather than subtraction.

I've always been a stickler for commas - not only where they belong, but where they don't.  (Whenever I see a sentence starting with "And," or "But," I cringe.)  I'll cheerily confess to overusing my ellipses, my semi-colons and my dashes, especially for effect, but I try to make sure every comma is in its place.

Lately, however, I've noticed an increasing trend of disappearing commas.  Some e-publications seem to have style-guides that omit not only standard comma use, but occasionally remove them from places where they're crucial for clarity.  I don't chalk this up to poor proofing or ignorance:  it seems to be a deliberate choice.

So all right, maybe I'm an old fogey in some regards.  Is this sentence really hindered by the loss of its comma?

Earlier that day, she had tea with a dragon.

(I've warned y'all about my examples before, haven't I?)

It's still clear what's being talked about, but I can't help but feel the loss of the beat.  On the other hand:

She turned around slowly assessing the beast.

Is she turning slowly, or assessing slowly?  The lack of comma makes it muddy.

I think part of the reason commas are something I spend so much energy with is they are the tools of beat, rhythm and accent in language.  As a musician, I can't help but notice the flow.  As a harp player, I'm particularly attuned to phrases in music.  When you work out the fingering for a tune, as long as there is at least one finger on the harp, the notes provide a connected phrase.  As soon as you come off, that breaks the connection - the end of the phrase, the pause, the singer's breath mark ... the comma.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Thursday Thoughts

My post this week comes as a result of this:

World's Cutest Kid Explains Why He Doesn't Eat Octopus

(For those who might not be in a place to watch a video, basically, it's a young boy declaring he doesn't want to eat animals because he wants them to stay standing.  It is pretty adorable.)

When I first saw this, I was struck by the boy's logic and how dismayed he became.  I enjoyed this as a clever glimpse into a child's mind and personally, it didn't even occur to me to think, "Oh, sheesh, another touchy-feely plea for vegetarianism."  (Yes, I am very much a carnivore, myself.)

Until I read the comments.

Ninety percent of those who commented seemed to ignore what to me is the "story" here to praise or criticize the kid's point of view, point out that he'll change his tune as soon as he has a bacon cheeseburger, etc.  I wondered ... why can't people just enjoy this without obsessing over the message?

(Now, I'll admit the end of the video is a bit more blatant - the comment that he's doing something beautiful - but I still don't think that undermines my overall point.)

This is my problem with fiction writing - I feel like some people, both writers and readers, miss the delights of the story because they're fixated on the message.  Now, that isn't to say that the message can't enhance the story, or that many stories don't have some kind of organic message even if the writer has no conscious intent ... but there is a matter of focus and priority here.

To me, the first priority is always the integrity of the story.  I think this is in good part because a good story feels real to me - as if the writer is a travelogue writer in another realm, not an inventor.  When story elements are excessively shaped to portray something specific, it robs me of the verisimilitude.  The Cave People of Shri should be superstitious about people flying because that's how they are, not as a metaphor for shortsightedness.

(One of these days, I should cull all my terrible examples in these posts and attempt to write a story from them.  It would be epic ... in the worst sense.)

So when writing, at least in novel length, I always start with worldbuilding - and once that's in place, I rarely change it to the convenience of the story.  (I can't say never, but I would be extremely reluctant.)  To me, the reality of the world is not negotiable for the advancement of plot.

Scylla and Charybdis, which I'm in the process of final editing right now, does a lot with gender dynamics.  I decided very early on that I didn't want to make some specific statement about how men and women interact - but rather that I wanted to use the situation to set up some interesting (and rather broken) societies and then explore them, and gender interaction happened to be the experimental variable.  If there is a central message in SaC, it's less about gender and more about the hazards of concealing things from others "for their own good" ... but I didn't set out to say that.  It's just a statement (one of many) that you could make from the events of the plot.

So when I watch the video above, I'm not thinking too much about the ethical dimensions of vegetarianism.  I'm thinking about the boy's choice of words.  I'm amused by the mother referring to the "chopped little legs" of the octopus.  I'm thinking about octopus gnocchi and where can I get some of that - and where was this filmed that it's an appropriate food for a three year old?

I'm coming up with a horror story where the food comes back to life ... all right, maybe not.  However, I did write a story once from the point of view of an animated servitor comprised of foodstuff ...