Saturday, December 27, 2014

Keeping Up With The Introvert

During this holiday season, when we visit with friends and family, I want to provide a glimpse into the brain of that introvert who isn't quite in sync (or in the pictures) with everyone else.  I can't speak for all introverts, of course, but before assuming you're being ignored or slighted, consider this:

When they don't initiate contact ...
The introvert is probably startled and even overwhelmed by the number of friends you have.  They don't want to "bug" you, and can't help feeling that they are, even if they intellectually know better.  Since they are just one of many friends, they don't want to hog your time.  This goes especially for a time of year traditionally reserved for family.  They may also feel like they need to come up with something clever or interesting to do on an outing.

On a personal note, I hate phone calls.  Calling someone I don't know, even a company or sales department, is a source of anxiety, and I will do anything I can to avoid it ... but even speaking to a friend is difficult.  Because I can't see you and "feel you out," pauses or silences feel insurmountable.  I put up with it because I want to talk to you, but I would much rather meet face to face.

When they're "too tired" ...
They're not blowing you off.  Introverts need energy for social interaction.  If they're worn out or depressed, nine times out of ten, they genuinely need to be alone.  That tenth time, though, they will drag themselves out and be glad they did.
When they don't ask about your problems ...
The introvert is trying to give you the thing they often value the most:  space and privacy.  They show concern for you by not prying, by not forcing you to discuss something you may not want to share.  They may ask open-ended questions, tiptoeing around the issue - this is an invitation.

When they don't talk about their lives ...
The introvert instinctively feels that their life is boring.  Who wants to hear about that - especially when there are problems?  They don't place value on exchange of personal information as a measure of closeness.  Again, they recognize that they're one of many friends you have.  They don't want to burden you.

And that Christmas card ...
Don't expect a gushy note, but if you got a Christmas card from an introvert, you are one of an extremely select group.  And since the introvert didn't use their own words, they probably took care with the card they did select.

However ...
The introvert (specifically, this introvert) wishes you all the warmth of the holidays, whoever you share it with.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

A bit of random housekeeping first:  both my Tuesdays and Thursdays are shaping up to be insane with coursework in the Winter quarter (if I hadn't done four on-ground courses for the end of my pastry degree, I'd be petrified), so I think my weekly post is going to shift to Wednesday.  To appease my addiction to alliteration, I will likely entitle them Wednesday Wanderings.

If you would like to help me, or someone else you know, overcome the terrible disease that is compulsive alliteration, donations are always welcome.  Please send cash.

Yes, I did have a topic in mind, not just a shameless grab for money, and it's appropriate to the season.  I've been thinking about holidays in fantasy worlds.  Most writers, I think, have some kind of seasonal festivals - it's something that's been ingrained into our consciousness, and it has a long, historical tradition.  Sometimes, though, it's intriguing to go beyond the universal and consider how specific beliefs may have developed into customs or other holidays.

I haven't done as much of this as I would like - another thing that goes on my to-do list! - but my most recent story with Abyss and Apex, Dancing Day, does explore this concept.  While it is loosely themed around Christmas, the activities of the Dancing Day are very different and have magical consequences.  Indeed, that's an unique opportunity we have in fantasy.  When you celebrate the gods ... do they acknowledge?  What about holidays and observations that mark supernatural events?

This also brings me to fantasy calendars.  This is something that I always devote some attention to, even if the reader doesn't see more than a glimpse of it.  It's tricky to build a fantasy calendar, too ... do you take the easy route and simply rename our months and days?  That's already 19 potential new fantasy words your reader has to deal with.  Do you rearrange our 365 days into a different shape?  There's no reason that a fantasy year has to have 365 days, but to my mind, you want it close.  If your fantasy year is 400 days, for instance, your character who is 25 by their reckoning is actually 27 by ours (yes, I did the math) ...

To me, coming up with a scheme that isn't recognizably based in our Earth but it is still easy to follow is a work of art.  I'm not sure if I've accomplished this yet.  The calendar I use in Unnatural Causes is a bit peculiar in that the rest-day - Pinnacle - is smack-dab in the center of their week.  The days on either side count up or down to it, as the case may be.  I've made sure that all my references to what day it is are supported with clarifying statements.  Hopefully, it won't drive people nuts!

So as the year winds down ... writers, how do your characters celebrate?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

GoodReads Review: The Sable Moon

The Sable Moon (Book of the Isle, #3)The Sable Moon by Nancy Springer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not done yet, GoodReads!

All right, now about the book itself. This, the third volume of Nancy Springer's Isle series, follows the next generation after The Silver Sun - Trevyn, the headstrong son of Alan and Lysse, part elf, someday king, and all-round pain in the neck. Trevyn's pride is a driving force of the first section of the novel, causing him to reject his blood-brother and walk away from his true love. My favorite part of the book is his arrival in Welas, where his pride both defeats him ... and at the same time, is the thing that defines and sustains him.

(Younger readers may feel differently, but through a lot of this volume, I had trouble liking Trevyn as a character. It is perhaps telling that I inadvertently stole the name, years and years later, for an RPG char's psychotic ex-boyfriend ...)

The main problem with The Sable Moon is that it relies even heavily on the deep, mysterious mythos of Isle - but here, perhaps in part because the fantasy field has now been inundated with similar tales, it wears thin. Instead of complementing the lyricism of the prose, the magical world feels like a deus ex machina, reducing motivations to, "Because I said so."

Still, as a romantic interest, Meg is positively delightful, a spunky heroine in a vein that has become perhaps just a touch too familiar ... but perhaps because she's original rather than imitative, she comes off very true and likeable. It's just a shame we don't get a bit more of her perspective. Hmm, so I've changed my mind - Meg is my favorite part of the novel.

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Sunday Snippets

Been a while since I've posted one of these!  Here's a piece from the short story I'm working on.  It started as a free write from January of 2010.  Three children (Niall, Tobin and Sarika) have just awakened Malin from a hospital bed in a government complex.  As she struggles to remember how she got there, she convinces them to help her escape:

Niall charged the door and bulled it open; Tobin squirmed under her other arm to steady her.  They entered the corridor together.  The antiseptic light stunned Malin.  She squinted to block it out, her feet slipping on the tiled floor. 

“We snuck in through the break room,” Sarika said hurriedly, leaning to guide her in that direction. 

The painful spear of approaching thoughts sliced into Malin’s consciousness.  “Not that way,” she said.  “They’re coming.” 

Sarika hesitated.  “But …” 

Niall took charge.  “There must be stairs,” he said. 

They reversed direction, harried skidding.  Malin would have laughed if claustrophobia and confusion hadn’t held her in their grip.  She needed to get away from here.  She had been held prisoner by people she could almost recall, pieces of names and glimpses of faces – but if it had been three hundred years, as Sarika said, they would all be dead.  It was their descendants who guarded her now, and they had made her – the Dreamer – into a legend. 

Between them and the stairs stood an imposing security door.  The three children halted in dismay.  Malin was forced to stop with them. 

“It will only take voice commands,” Sarika said, tone dull.  “We’re trapped.  And now we’re all going to get into trouble.  We’ve gotten the Dreamer into trouble!” 

Clarity touched her, a cooling wind.  “No,” Malin said, “you haven’t.”  She reached out to the thoughts of their pursuers, picking up amber and brown.  The color and pattern had everything she needed to know:  timbre, pitch and words. 

“Command – open door,” she said in a gruff alto.  The pair supporting her jumped in surprise. 

The door parted like a curtain.  Malin leaned forward, reclaiming her balance.  She still felt a traitorous quiver in her ankles, but she had to ignore it.  “Let’s go.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

Today, I want to talk about NLP.

Given my various topics of conversation, you may be forgiven for thinking this stands for Naughty Little Phoenix, Nummy Lindsey Pastries, or even No Loud Plucking.

In fact, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a fancy term for using language in a manner that primes the recipient to accept and act upon what you have to say.  It has innumerable uses, from teaching, to corrective feedback / critique, to diplomacy, to debate, to simply being sneaky and getting what you want.

A simple example that falls under the umbrella of NLP is this:  the brain doesn't process negatives.  When you use words like, "don't" or "not," your brain omits them and focuses on what it perceives as the underlying message.  ("Don't think of a white elephant."  All right, what just crossed your mind?  I won't tell.)  So by phrasing advice, directives, etc, in the form of the positive - "Take deep breaths and stay calm" vs "Don't panic" - you make the message more effective.

Writers use NLP a lot, whether they would recognize it or not.  It is an invaluable tool for critiquing:  frame your advice to another writer in a way that gets them thinking rather than defensive.  And, of course, the story itself uses NLP.  We writers often want to make a reader feel a certain way without directly revealing it.  This can be as simple as using aggressive words to describe a neutral action.  The reader feels the tension / conflict, even if the actions themselves are innocent in nature.

In fantasy - or in a modern political thriller, I suppose - the diplomat or politician would be well-served to use some of these principles, even if they aren't a conscious or scientific choice.  Obviously, the term Neuro-Linguistic Programming is so modern as to shock a reader senseless in most secondary fantasy worlds, but the principles are sound, and many of them don't require a chemical understanding of the brain - simply long-term observation and analysis of how human beings process and retain information.  I could see this becoming pseudo-scientific in certain fantasy realms ...

Of course, it's slightly ironic that I think about this now, considering that the narrator of Unnatural Causes is about as anti-NLP as it's possible to get.  She fundamentally doesn't grasp the concept of diplomacy and believes that, if it's the truth, people should accept it, no matter how it's presented.  Obviously, that gets her into trouble ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

I've always been particular about proper grammar, to the point where, if I see a grammatical error in an advertisement, company paperwork, etc, my opinion of the entity in question plummets.  I know this is irrational (or at least excessive), but I can't help it.  I even get a bit nervous about making a commitment - for instance, signing a contract.  It's been a bit of a shock to deal with email communication from my instructors at school and realize that - shock, horror - not everyone cares that much about grammatical detail.

Still, for me, I can't help it.  I've made a conscious choice to use "they" as gender-neutral singular, even though this is not technically correct ... and I still feel guilty about it.

In some ways, I'm a bit of a dinosaur.  I still "double-tap" at the beginning of a sentence and have no intentions of stopping.  I am also even pickier about the proper use of commas, not just for clarity, but for the rhythm and flow of sentences.  (So says the musician.)  Many publishers seem to be abolishing the comma for anything but clarity.  And oh, it sets my teeth on edge, even though I recognize that language is an evolving beast.

That said, it will never be okay to start a sentence with "but" and a comma.  That's not how it works!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sunday Shameless (Advertising)

Tis the season, and as an author with works for sale, I feel contractually obligated to point out that the following can make great Christmas presents ...

Please do check out my contemporary fantasy novel, Flow!  Available as both an ebook and in print, it was the collision of a long-time love of fairy-folk with a few favorite characters allowed to run wild.  (And per the sample in this link, Kit really does say "Holy schnitzel" as one of her pet phrases - it's not me trying to clean up the language.  ;-))

For a shorter sample of the world of the novel, and a taste of the holidays, try out Xmas Wishes.

Gypsy Shadow Publishing also has (at the same bargain of only a dollar!) Taming The Weald, a science fantasy story where space stations and wild growth co-exist ... at least, until one invades the other.

A few anthologies in which I have stories, all of which come highly recommended:

Unburied Treasures


The Light of the Last Day (I have both a flash fiction piece and a poem in this one)

Last, but certainly not least, mosey over to my site and consider giving someone the gift of music:  my Celtic harp CD, Rolling of the Stone, is also available.  You'll find Welsh (my personal obsession), Scottish and Irish music, along with selections from the Breton tradition, German / Bavarian, and Latin sacred music.  It's mostly instrumental, but there are a handful of vocals.

If you're interested, please buy direct from me - I get a very small cut from Amazon.  Due to their shipping requirements, it barely covers the cost of sending CDs to their distribution center.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

It's been a while since I've blogged with any regularity - though balancing coursework and multiple forms of work-work (and writing, of course) has proved more manageable this quarter, it has required a lot of brain space, and I haven't felt much like posting here.

Although all the organizational work is handled and I'm comfortably ahead in my coursework, the rest of this week and the next two are going to be pure insanity on all fronts.  Harp-wise, this will be my best Christmas in a while.  I have multiple gigs happening over this span of time, so I will be able to show off my seasonal repertoire.  It's also busy season for catering work and - of course! - prepping for the final buffet project at school.

All this is to say, in my usual convoluted fashion, that I thought now was a good time for some commentary, before I vanish permanently into the ethers of insanity.

One of the odd side effects of being a writer - specifically a speculative fiction writer, where much of the brainstorming involves premises that aren't possible in our modern day world - is that there are times when my deductive brain doesn't work quite the way it should.  This makes me lousy at word jumbles, mysteries - I tend to joke that if I can guess the killer, it's too easy, though reading more mystery novels has made me better at it - and logic puzzles.

Now, when I say logic puzzles, I don't mean the kind that require (effectively) symbolic logic: for instance, the knights-and-knaves puzzles of Raymond Smullyan where knights always tell the truth, knaves always lie, and the goal of the puzzle is to decipher which the speaker(s) is/are.  I tend to be pretty good at that kind of deduction, though I will confess to skimming over the puzzles so I could read the embedded story the first time around.

I mean the kind that require you to make common sense / reasonable decisions about human behavior and the world.  One example that sticks out is a visual puzzle that shows two checks and asks which one is forged - the $5.00 check or the $5000.  The answer is, of course, the $5000, because no one would bother to forge a $5.00 check.

But that's not how my brain likes to work.  Instead, my gears are busily turning to figure out under what circumstances one would forge a $5.00 check.  I can't help but take the basic underlying assumptions apart and ask ... when would this nonsensical thing make sense?

(Among its many other writerly inaccuracies, the main character of the show Castle thinks more like a fantasy writer than a mystery writer.  I mean ... time travelers?  Zombies?  Vampires?)

This is connected to why I'm (usually) hopeless with word jumbles:  instead of seeing that "garaman" is anagram mixed about, I think, "Oh, that would make a cool name."  This is probably a very specific problem to secondary world fantasy.

Come to think of it, that whole "knights and knaves" thing would be an interesting basis for a fantasy society.  It has doubtless been done, but there's nothing new under the sun.  Hmm ...

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

GoodReads Review: The Silver Sun by Nancy Springer

The Silver Sun (Book of Isle, #2)The Silver Sun by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second volume of a series written some decades ago, when all the familiar tropes of fantasy were young ... and it reads as such, with poetic, formal language and a deep authenticity in subject that makes it obvious why these elements became cliche in the years that followed. It is still difficult, as a modern reader, to separate one's self from that familiarity, but it is still possible to recognize that freshness.

The tone of the language, combined with the casual use of floating omniscience - what modern writers would condemn as head-hopping - makes it difficult to connect with the characters. Whereas in the first book, it comes off as mythic and appropriate, this sequel doesn't convey the same feeling. Maybe it's because this is a longer book; maybe it is because many of the adventures are more personal; maybe it is because gods and destiny are less clearly written on Hal from the start.

Whatever the case, this is still an enjoyable book, but one that more clearly shows its age.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

So both the last story I finished - Wine & Chocolate - and the current one I'm working on - an untitled, unfinished free write - both involve a mysteriously deserted city as seen through the eyes of a first person.  There is no connection between these two tales, not even in their conception:  the story fragment was written a little over five years ago and just happened to be the next one, chronologically, that I hadn't finished.  The explanations, plot and motivations are entirely different.

Even so, as I started to work on this new tale, my brain nagged at me with a sense of deja vu and finally the thought, "Wait, didn't we just write this?"  I stopped myself, puzzled, then realized what had happened.

On the other hand, I have written another story with a deserted city at its core - Sleepwalking - so it may be simply that it's a theme that interests me.  Perhaps it's that I'm antisocial and the idea of a city with no people in it appeals to me.

Just another episode in the life of a writer.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

GoodReads Review: The White Hart

The White Hart (Book of Isle, #1)The White Hart by Nancy Springer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's hard to judge a novel like this, decades after its time, when the archetypes upon which it draws have become cliché and the style has become something most modern readers don't appreciate. To me, I love the lyricism, the flow, the stylized language - it is one part novel, one part poem / ballad / ode. It feels mythical, even though the land in which events occur is invented. This book draws deeply upon Celtic, specifically Welsh, mythic sensibilities. (I read this first as a child - in hindsight, it's easy to see why I adored it, coming out of The Prydain Chronicles, which are themselves a loose retelling of Welsh mythology. It's certainly part of my lifelong affinity for all things Welsh.)

This novel relies heavily upon destiny, fate, and the motion of powers beyond ourselves - powers against which even gods have trouble standing. For the most part, the power of the language carries these elements and makes the reader (or at least me-as-reader) feel the mystery and inevitability. However, there are other places where, with more modern fantasy sensibilities, I'm just not sold on the inescapable nature of events. As a child, I was wholly swept away; as an adult, there are places where I can only say, "Bevan is a jerk."

I also have to say that the prophecy, written as all such things are, about the future line ending with a character named Hal ... that made me giggle. Because when I hear the name Hal, I picture a balding plumber. (This would actually be a great story, but I'm sure the like has been written.)

That said, this is a lovely work, as long as you treat it as half story and half poetry; there is a kind of fairytale logic to it. It shows its age, but it is based on some of the elements that give fantasy its power, and those are timeless.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Those of you who know me will be aware that, as an author, I am strongly against the idea of stories having a constructed message - that is, the story was written to illustrate a specific viewpoint or philosophy or to explore a certain issue under the guise of fiction.  Of course, all stories inevitably make some kind of statement about the world they reflect, but to me, that should be secondary - incidental, if you will - to the story itself.  To me, a good story has a life and existence of its own, which needs to be respected.

All of this is to preface why it might be surprising when I say that my problem trying to figure out the exact ending of Wine and Chocolate was solved by looking at the story question.  To me, the story question isn't one of underlying theme or meaning:  it's the core of where plot and character meet, the reason the reader keeps turning pages (we hope - both in that they turn pages, and that they're doing it for the same reason the author intended!), and the question that must be answered for the story to satisfy.  The resolution of the story question is arguably what separates a standalone story from a chapter in a novel.

(... although some editors who have read my short stories may disagree with me on this point ...)

Most often, for me, the answer to the story question is a, "Yes, but ..."  The main character is successful, but in achieving their desire, new complications arise, leaving the sensation - which is crucial in fiction, to me - that life goes on.

In any case, back to Wine and Chocolate:  the story starts with a specific problem and a mystery; the latter is resolved in what I hope is a pretty dramatic reveal late in the story, and then ... and then I halted.  When I had started the story, I had a very clear image of the arc to this point:  it was my goal in writing.  But I had no idea how to move from there to a conclusion.  I played with two or three possible resolutions, all of which felt unnecessarily drawn out and labored.  I couldn't quite put my finger on what wasn't working.

Then I realized that I was trying to "solve" the new issues raised by the reveal; to go back to my own terminology, I was trying to resolve everything after the "but," which was outside the scope of this story.  I need to pull back on my ending, reveal less, but lay groundwork for the reader to assume the eventual resolution.

So that's the direction I'm going.  It may be quite a while before Wine and Chocolate sees my submissions queue - I have about forty finished stories right now that haven't even seen the light of day; even considering some never will, that's a lot "ahead" of it - but I hope it will satisfy.

Yes, but ...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

GoodReads Review: Spells and Swashbucklers

Spells and SwashbucklersSpells and Swashbucklers by Valerie Griswold-Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I had stopped reading this anthology about halfway through, I would have described it as a solid but unexceptional collection of stories - only one or two duds, but nothing that particularly grabbed my attention, either, with the exception of A.D.R. Forte's "The Goddess Clause," which had a very satisfying fleshed-out fairytale feel. Right about "William Did" (Erik Amundsen), though - the terrible pun-ness / rhyming-ness of the title and content notwithstanding - the quality of the stories takes an upturn. The remaining stories in the anthology are in general much richer, with some inventive worlds and unusual circumstances.

In general, I think this anthology suffers from the fact that many of these stories feel like - and in a handful of cases, actually are - sequels, but they don't quite satisfy as they are. The strongest stories are those that contain a complete arc, including the chilling "The Vengeance Garden" (Laurel Anne Hill).

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Sunday Snippet: Wine and Chocolate

It's been a while since I've posted an excerpt since - until recently - I've been working on novel-length projects, which are too far along to pick an excerpt that isn't a spoiler, requires a lot of explanation, or both.

But for today, I'd like to share the opening of a new story I'm working on, inspired by:  my research on wine and religion; the medical properties that, historically, people used to believe that chocolate (as a drink) had; and an aspect of the opening scenario of the television show The Last Ship.  I've also just finished my Latin Cuisine course, so I have that area of the world on the brain.

That melange of inspirations has become Wine & Chocolate:

I leaned against the Necessity’s rail, my fingers tracing the grain of my ancestors, and squinted into the fog.  While the dark bulk of the city assured me that Port Diovana had not been swallowed by the earth, no firefly lights sparkled in the gloom to greet us.

“Odd thing, isn’t it, Captain?”  Arojin Feneli, my first mate, spoke in a low voice.  His softness made me more uneasy than the content of his words.  “Never seen a city so still.”

“Neither have I.”  I shook off the unease.  It had been a long journey back to civilization after a pack of privateers had chased us deep into the Evershifting Islands.  After that unwelcome adventure, I was probably just borrowing trouble.  “Tell Nip to stay sharp.”

Arojin nodded and moved off to flag the tiny girl – my cabin girl and lookout.  Nip, who had always looked a bit like a scruffy monkey with tawny hair that spiked down the center of her brow, now looked better kept than most of us:  she had grown up in rags and cast-offs and knew how to carry herself in them.  Arojin took pride in his sculpted black beard, the height of Tavellan fashion, but hadn’t been able to trim it since the ship’s last mirror broke in a storm.

I joined the navigator at the helm as the ship glided into the fog.  “Lane lanterns are out,” I observed.  “Think you can do this by feel, Vassar?”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

In honor of my final week as a pastry student - after this week, I will be calling myself a pastry chef, though I will still be a culinary student working on my associates - I present a feast (or is that a library?) of culinary to fiction parallels:

If the final product is too staged and composed, it is unappealing.  In plated presentations, a bit of randomness catches the eye; in display cakes, gum-paste flowers and leaves look more real when occasionally torn (my chef recommends putting in a puncture mark 'bug bite' now and then); and in fiction, the best tales have a bit of real life's messiness.

The dish you are eating is made of both what you can see - fruits, nuts, lamb - and what you (usually) can't - herbs, spices, and in the case of baked goods, baking powder, yeast, and other invisible ingredients that are crucial to structure.  There's also a lot going on in fiction that goes beyond the casual read and between the lines.

If you play a trick on someone - bread that looks like a carrot; blue food - there are people who will appreciate it, and people who will have to suppress the urge to smash the plate over your head, and the response only partially depends on how clever you are.  I don't think I have to elaborate how this applies to trick endings in fiction.  ;-)

You can make a gorgeous, soaring sugar-piece or beautiful gum-paste blooms to accent a pastry piece, but none of that matters if the cake is two inches tall because you don't know how to properly emulsify a batter.  (Sponge cakes rise in large part because you are incorporating air into the batter.)  In fiction, spinge-tingling prose and intriguing plotlines fall apart without basic grammar and punctuation.

You have to know the rules before you break them.  See above:  blue is typically not used (via dye or other methods) because there are no true blue foods.  Blueberries are actually more purple.  But certain cultures traditionally have blue plates, and it can be quite effective when used correctly.  I don't even know that I can pick out a single writing rule to apply this to:  there are times when it's very effective to tell, not show, or to use passive voice to convey a feeling of helplessness, or ...

And there's one parallel where I feel it's most appropriate to start with the writing aphorism, because it is one of the most infuriating and misunderstood bits of advice in the author's world:  write what you know.  More properly, this should be "know what you write."

I am one quarter Welsh, one quarter Italian, and a random dollop of Scottish, Scots-Irish, German, Swedish and ... oh, never mind, I've lost track.  The fact is, I am ridiculously European, and until relatively late in life, I had no experience with Indian cuisine.  That hasn't stopped me from cooking Indian food, but I've spent a lot of time becoming familiar with the spice profiles and understanding the philosophy behind certain flavor combinations.  I can confidently say now that I could "invent" an Indian style dish, but if I had tried when I first started cooking?  It would have rung hollow.

So ... know what you write, know what you cook:  know your inspirations.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Fiction, like the real world, is supposed to be messy.  It is, however, a continuum:  if fiction were as chaotic, random and often pointless as reality, readers would revolt.  On the other hand, a story where all the pieces fit neatly into place and everything has a purpose feels too contrived, too convenient.  It breaks our suspension of disbelief.

I have a pet peeve with prequel stories, mainly illustrated by film examples.  For me, I find myself pulled out of the story when the prequel tries to explain / incorporate everything.  Isn't it awfully convenient that the complexities of the now-time story can be contained within this one episode?  To me, rather than illuminating mysteries and revealing new facets, it makes the fictional world feel smaller.

(My personal examples:  White Collar and the prequel episode that finally shows Neal's relationship with Kate; the Spartacus prequel series.)

A related issue is the amount of content in a story that isn't strictly necessary.  Once again, I feel moved to offer a culinary metaphor.  I hope y'all will forgive me.

We're told to cut fat off our stories - but fat is what provides flavor.  Lean pieces of meat are frequently wrapped in or threaded with fat while cooking to ensure taste.  When hunting for a quality piece of meat, we look for marbling.  And what does marbling represent?  That, my friends, is intramuscular fat.  In the fictional world, I suppose that would be "unnecessary" detail that fits so smoothly in with the story the writer is telling that it never stands out.

This may be why I've never had much luck with shorter stories.  I do luck upon them occasionally:  She's Unable To Lunch Today, which I just finished, runs about 2800 words ... but even that tale has some detail that doesn't pertain directly to the story and characters at hand.  I just find it difficult to narrow my focus to only the essential elements.  There's so much just around the corner, and it only takes a heartbeat to take a peek ...

By contrast, this has served me well in Unnatural Causes.  It makes for a great method of generating red herrings.

I feel the urge to extend the culinary metaphor once again, but I hate fish.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Because I've been in no less than three baking and pastry courses, two of which allow a fair amount of artistic freedom, a lot of my observations on creativity lately have related to the culinary field.  It's not so unrelated to my writing as I originally assumed, though, and I've found a lot of parallels and similarities.

Dessert plating, which takes into account color, shape, texture and taste, and includes at minimum a main component, a sauce and a garnish.  (I suppose you could stretch the metaphor and say that ... no, you couldn't, because I'm reluctant to say that "plot" is automatically the main component, or relegate "setting" to the garnish.  But I digress.)  As I've progressed through my coursework, I've learned some things about my plating style:

I don't like overly complex, cluttered plating with multiple elements that serve only a decorative purpose.  (Read:  purple prose.  ;-)  See also:  stories that go out of their way to be clever and experimental.  No, I am not bashing either of these things in themselves, but I have read stories where it seems like the author's only purpose is to be "weird," and everything else has gotten lost.  The experiment should serve the story, not the other way around.)

I don't like plate design to be overly regimented or organized.  A little chaos / messiness / randomness is very appealing to me.  (Stories, especially in the shorter category, can be *too* neat and tidy.  Life is messy, and fantastic worlds reflect this.)

I like abstract designs and odd shapes.  (I wouldn't call myself an experimental writer, but I definitely trend to tackling odd topics and dealing with them faithfully.)

I have trouble conceptualizing the design of a plate in my head.  To really discern what I want to do, I need to have all the potential elements laid out, where I can physically play with them a bit before plating.  (This is also how I write:  I create in-depth character and world profiles so I have all the pieces developed in technicolor, but I do very little plotting in advance.)

You can never have enough sorbet or ice cream.  (In fiction, I ...

Nope, I got nothing.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Goodreads Review: The Viognier Vendetta

The Viognier Vendetta (Wine Country Mysteries #5)The Viognier Vendetta by Ellen Crosby
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When vineyard owner Lucie Montgomery receives a phone call out of nowhere from her tempestuous friend Rebecca - who she hasn't seen in twelve years - she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, betrayal and coded messages buried within poetry.

I picked up this book by accident: I was actually looking for non-fiction books on Viognier. However, I love a good mystery with an amateur sleuth, so I decided to take a chance on it. It has all the right elements - lies, intrigue, an evocative setting, excellent pacing - and I really wanted to like it, but it fell short for me in too many places.

The first thing that stood out to me is how much the descriptive and historical passages read like a tourist guidebook. The infodumping took me right out of Lucie's point of view and made me feel as if I was learning about the places secondhand, rather than actually being there.

Second, there's the romantic subplot. It may be an unfortunate side effect with coming in at the fifth or so book in a long-running series of this subgenre, but I briefly found myself wondering if the main character had slept with every male we would be introduced to. The actual interactions with Quinn are disappointing and frustrating: there seems very little reason for her to be attached to him except that he's good in bed, and as a reader, I never really felt the heat between them. So much of their apparent problems could be cleared up by honest conversation and never were. It was throw-the-book infuriating.

I really did enjoy the way Crosby set the scene, introduced us to characters, speculated on their motives, and gave us loose ends to puzzle upon. The novel was also nicely paced: for all its flaws, it kept me turning pages. (I had the same reaction to The DaVinci Code, so I suppose it is in good company!) However, the final revelation as to the killer disappointed me. It was a very straightforward mystery with few twists and turns as to whodunnit. The answer wasn't a surprise, and not in a positive way.

Finally, considering that this is Lucie's fifth endeavor into the realm of murder and mayhem, I expected her to be more proactive. She was fairly passive throughout, allowing other characters and their actions to push her into motion.

Overall, it was a decent read, but I was disappointed.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Goodreads Review: The Buried Pyramid by Jane Lindskold

The Buried PyramidThe Buried Pyramid by Jane Lindskold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thorough, absorbing historical adventure, deeply rooted in the culture and society of the era. The reader gets inside the minds of headstrong Jenny Benet, a young woman raised on the American frontier and with a dim view of English society and all its restrictions; and Neville Hawthorne, a thoroughly British military man who has become obsessed with the mystery of a legendary pharaoh. It is this mystery that brings Neville and his companions to Egypt and a perilous quest ...

Lindskold excels at creating characters that you identify with and enjoy; their foibles make them real. Even the "villains" in this story are people with depth. I loved Stephen, the peculiar young scholar who is brought along to translate. There's even a cat with a personality all her own. (Particularly fitting in a novel of Egyptology ...)

The build-up in this novel is lengthy, with much planning, preparation, warnings, cautions and preludes ... but it all pays off in the end, and when the fantastic element finally arrives, the reader is fully primed for it. That said, I still think this book spends a bit too much time digressing into the research / background, adds maybe a hurdle or two too many, and could probably have been 50 - 100 pages shorter without losing this tension.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed this book and would love to experience further adventures from this cast.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

For whatever reason, I've always had trouble naming (or titling) things.  I can syllable-mash with the best fantasy writer, and I've spent hours working on naming languages that produce very cohesive and credible results, but if you ask me to come up with a descriptive name for an organization or - perish the thought - a business, my brain seizes up.  Part of it is the inner editor, given room to have laser focus and dismiss everything as not good enough, but the rest is inexplicable.

Of course, I'm terrible at word jumbles:  I look at a mess of letters and my brain doesn't unscramble them, it goes, "Oh, that would be a great character/place name."  But I digress.

When I stumble upon something that works, it often seems to be an accident.  I'm fairly happy with the titles I used in Flow:  water-witches, Borderwatch, the Unwashed, but I don't recall spending a lot of time or mental energy on those - they just developed naturally.  I can't say the same for the Pinnacle Empire and the Galactic Collective in Scylla and Charybdis - they took a while to work up, and they're workable, but not the most brilliant gems in the box.

This all comes up for a reason far more mundane and probably more important, in the scheme of things:  I'm trying to come up with a name for my pastry / culinary face.  I don't want to be "Lindsey Duncan Pastries" or the like - as a matter of personal preference, I've never liked that kind of business name.  I have a great one for the future, Entwined Harmonies ... but that's for use with wine-related ventures.  I want something serious but clever, ideally with a musical reference ...

But I can't even start.  Forget brainstorming, all I have is a handful of lame, unsuitable notions.  I just have to relax and let the idea simmer on the backburner ... but I wish I knew why it was so hard.