Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Today, I'd like to talk about the Olympics and a story that spoke to me - so if you haven't seen the Ladies' Free Skate for some reason (my cable decided to die Thursday evening, and it was only last night that the program finally showed up in my On Demand listing), close out this window post-haste.  Here be skating spoilers.

Most of the attention and commentary was on defending Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim, who was clearly a lovely person with a humanitarian bent and a mature skating style; and on the young athletic Russian phenom, Adelina Sotnikova, who came out of nowhere when the spotlight focused on her younger teammate ... both of whom were trying to make history.  Yuna Kim would have been only the second woman to ever win back-to-back gold medals, while Adelina Sotnikova would be Russia's first gold in women's figure-skating.

But there was one more historical landmark at stake that evening:  27 year old Carolina Kostner of Italy, an Olympic veteran with a painful history of faltering at the key moment - she was ninth in 2006, sixteenth in 2010 - stood a chance to give Italy its first medal in solo figure-skating.  But Kostner's opportunity was also deeply personal.  After the Olympics in 2010, she was defeated and weary; she decided to quit skating.

Her mother and coach, once a figure-skater herself, urged her not to.  She said:  skate for the love of skating.

Sounds so simple, so obvious.  It's almost a cliche.  It's the first advice any artist - and make no mistake, figure-skating is as much an art as a sport - receives when contemplating a life in pursuit of passion.

Yet for Carolina Kostner, it was magic.  She was reborn; she was the World Champion in 2012.  And at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, she performed a flawless short program followed by a triumphant free skate.  As she got off the ice, her mother said to her, "Now do you believe in yourself?"

Adelina Sotnikova might have stunned the crowd with her athleticism; Yuna Kim might have moved them with artistry ... but Carolina Kostner, the bronze medalist and Italy's first solo figure skating medal, showed them love of skating.

I suppose this story speaks to me because, as a writer, I often feel like Kostner.  Publication has been a long trudge with a few bright lights, but my main goal keeps eluding me while writers who have been at it a much shorter time keep racking up their successes, and I start to wonder ... what's wrong with me?

That's not to say I should ignore the fact that there are areas in which I need improvement.  I always try to keep an eye on my faults and work to correct them.  But when I go from submitting and selling back to writing, there's only one thing that matters:  do it for the love of writing.

Thank you, Carolina Kostner.

Monday, February 24, 2014

GoodReads Review: Wild Magic by Jo Clayton

Wild Magic (Drinker of Souls: Wild Magic, #1)Wild Magic by Jo Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of spunky, defiant Faan who is forced into a war between god and goddess, Wild Magic is, at its heart, a tale of ordinary people caught up in cosmic circumstances. It's a story with an intensely realized and complex world which is never fully explained to the reader - most of its concepts are learned by osmosis (or perhaps not at all). It's the kind of book that probably wouldn't be published today: full of dense, poetic language, an overabundance of made-up words, and following its heroine from infancy through growing pains to the adolescence in which the real story starts. Yet this life-long course is perfect for the story: it allows us to understand Faan in both her mundane and magical aspects.

It's a pity that this book is under-explained - some major concepts, like the Change, seem to appear suddenly and are left to inference, and there are aspects of the setting that I still don't understand. Faan's time learning sorcery was generally glossed over, which felt like a major omission, though it wasn't necessarily crucial to the story and seems like it will come into play more in the second book. As far as a satisfactory ending, Wild Magic has a great "Yes, but ..." conclusion ... and that's all I'll say on that.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

I belong to a small writing forum which has been doing bi-weekly free-writes on and off for a while.  Someone hosts and provides a topic / inspiration, and everyone writes for an hour.  I almost never finish, but I've gone back, finished and sold many of these stories.  This week, I plopped down to write up a list of what I had and had some surprises.  The general statistics:

Total free-writes:  58
Finished:  34 (of these, 1 was trunked for being, well, terrible)
Sold / Published:  5 (+1 that was sold and hasn't come out yet)
Currently in Submission:  2

Several patterns appeared.  There was no real science fiction here; a few stories had far future settings, but were closer to science fantasy.  Most of the stories were in secondary worlds, usually with significant worldbuilding basis, but a handful were contemporary.  Most of the protagonists were female.  There were far more stories that involved cooks, bakers or confectioners than I would have expected - keeping in mind these free writes were done long before I decided to attend culinary school.  Four of these stories were in worlds I had used before ... not including the two Ishene and Kemel stories, since the first story started as a free-write, and the story start from the perspective of Ishene's apprentice, decades later.

Some of the free writes were experimental.  One of the finished stories I had forgotten about is completely in dialogue, the arguments of two minds who end up in the same body.  Another is present tense, first person plural.  Then there's one that I have to blame on the prompt:  the entire story is one sentence.  Well, two, but the last sentence is used as sort of a cap to the run-on insanity.  A lot of the finished stories are way too long, and almost all of the unfinished ones need tightening.

So what did I learn here? ... I need to start doing free-writes again, of course.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

As I've mentioned before, I use the backburner of my brain a lot.  I tend to work best when I give stories time to simmer on their own, with just the occasional stir ... and I'll stop there, because otherwise the culinary metaphor is going to become laboured.

But it works even better when I don't just idle in between, instead working on a different project.  I found out the hard way some years ago that two novels wasn't a good idea simply because I ended up in a never-ending editing sequences, but short fiction and poetry is definitely an excellent change of pace.

So a bit late, and I've already missed one month, but I'm resolving to write a short story a month for the rest of the year.  Length is no object - if I have an idea for a piece of microfiction, that's perfectly valid.

So February's story is Stone Unturned, about a historian who specializes in "Soundings" - summoning visions of the past through prayer and song.  It's intended for the monthly challenge, which is to write a story including these five elements:  a child, a journey, a betrayal, a bird and a deserted building.  I always tend to take FWO challenges and add an additional, personal level of difficulty - my intention with this one was to have all the elements in both the past and the present, but I believe I'm just short of this ...

As far as this blog is concerned, this project will also give me more opportunity to share the occasional tidbit, as Unnatural Causes has already reached the point where most segments would either require extensive explanation, be "spoilers" for the plot, or both.

Monday, February 03, 2014

GoodReads Review: Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron (Shades of Grey #1)Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eddie Russet lives in a world where most people can only see one natural color - and how much of that color they can see determines their place in the world.  He has life figured out ... until he's banished to the Outer Fringes for attempting to improve the process of queueing, where a rebellious Grey named Jane challenges everything he thinks he knows.

It's a fantastic premise for a world, and many authors would have stopped there, but the setting of Shades of Grey is both deeply whimsical and twisted.  It is built on a mysterious past of "the Previous," who the reader assumes (but is never sure) was our own society, then bent thoroughly out of shape by premises that seem absurd, but hinge together with a logic one can almost - but never quite - make out.  It's a balancing act of dizzying skill.

Before the last quarter of Shades of Grey, I'd have to say that I felt Fforde spent too much time just exploring his world, without much clear conflict or advancement of the plot.  Then when I got to the chilling pay-off in the last pages, well ... I still think the story could have done with a little less exploration, but that deep immersion in the setting is crucial for the impact of the climax, and having been hit upside the head with it, I am confident that many of the apparently extraneous details will have relevance in the sequels.

Because this is definitely a book one ... but it's a book one that ends in a satisfying place, with the character resolved and evolved.  The main questions are really deeply personal ones:  will Eddie find his place in the world?  Will he be able to kindle romance with Jane? ... and both these questions get my absolute favorite answer:  "Yes, but ..."

The only other quibble I have with Shades of Grey is that I never felt particularly deep in Eddie's head.  For a first person narrative, it's surprisingly shallow in POV.  But small points aside, I don't say it lightly when I describe this novel as brilliant.  Give it a try.

View all my reviews