Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Writers are - and writing is - I think, intrinsically bipolar ... not in a clinical sense, of course, but as a necessity of the craft and business.  The euphoria we have when the words flow perfectly and everything comes together is the high we remember when we stumble, freeze up, come back to yesterday's page and think, "This is all garbage."  We need that negative impulse when it comes to editing, tempered with a little love.  We have to simultaneously be our own worst critics and our own greatest fans, and somehow know which applies in which moment ... and, of course, we never get it right all the time.

The submissions process sets up another series of highs and lows.  The acceptances, the rejections (far more frequent!), the comments in praise or critique, they all keep the rollercoaster going.  Personally, I think there's nothing more frustrating than a rejection letter that has only positive things to say!  If there was nothing you would change about it, why didn't you buy it?

Sadly, it often seems that growth and improvement as a writer comes as a greater ability to analyze your own flaws.  As you get better, you only get harder on yourself.  I look back at some of the whacky, unfiltered drivel I wrote when I was younger, and I miss that hyperactive energy.  I wish there was some way to combine the blind passion of then with the discerning eye of now.

I also miss the teenager who thought, "I don't want to wait until eighteen to have my book published; that's arbitrary and silly."  (And I would have used the word arbitrary; I was always a weird and wordy little kid.)  Oh, how I miss that confidence.  Now, that blithe assurance has been replaced by compulsion:  I keep writing because I have to.  Because of that tiny voice that says maybe, just maybe this time ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

A lot of writers have very strong thoughts about music, whether it be a crucial writing aid or a do-not-pass-go distraction, or even whether the writer is a musician themselves.  (A lot of fantasy writers seem to be Celtic musicians, or perhaps I just notice that selectively because I am one myself.)

From my secondhand understanding of how music and the brain interact, it should be hard to write while listening to music with lyrics - the lyrics engage the same part of the brain that is used for writing.  Instrumental music doesn't interfere in the same way because there is no language for the brain to interpret.  Never mind the science of it, though, I know writers who swear by their favorite tunes when they hit the keys.

For me, I can't listen to music while writing:  it distracts me too much.  On the other hand, I love to use music as a brainstorming aid, and it accompanies me through much of my day-to-day life ... and being an incubator of stories, I plot while driving or cooking or other activity of choice, whether consciously or not.

There's another way I use music to help me in my writing:  when doing my prep work for novels, I single out songs from my collection to identify with specific characters, relationships or situations.  Then, when those songs come on in my listening, I am quickly brought to pondering the character (relationship, situation ...).  Given the way my brain works, I would be willing to bet I do this even when the connection isn't consciously brought to mind.

I do reuse the same song for future projects and new characters, and usually, "reassigning" a song will change the mental associations ... but not always.  Years later, Gloria Estefan's Dangerous Game still brings me back to Miayde and Treddian from Butterfly's Poison.

Sometimes, my choices are more snarky than serious.  For instance, in Scylla and Charybdis, where the main character was raised in a female-only society that uses Amazon names, I put the following on the novel playlist:  Kirsty MacColl's Us Amazonians.  I should hope it's obvious that very little about this song applies either seriously or literally to the story!

And, of course, other times, my song selections are more about feel than the precise lyrics.  Going all the way back to Flow, I've always associated Ghost In The Machinery (Sarah Brightman) with Kit.  (For those of you who are familiar with and like Brightman, her album "Fly" is a very wonderfully weird side-step from her usual fare.)  Yet there is almost nothing in the lyrics that is specifically relevant to the storyline.

I "find" songs, too:  abruptly discover that something I'm listening to applies to a character.  I think this is what always appealed to me about Glee, for all its (many) flaws:  that joy in "found" music.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that music is an important part of my creative process, but as part of the backburner, behind-the-scenes development rather than a writing companion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

One final foray into the topic of naming (for now):  the naming of things, whether it be cities, landmarks, organizations, or places of business.  This is the part of naming that I find the most challenging, and each category has its own pitfalls.

For countries and cities in secondary worlds, there are obviously two types of names:  invented names that follow similar conventions to the names of their inhabitants, and descriptive names like Whitehollow or Kingstown.  (The former may, in fact, be the latter in some older language.)  For me, the challenge of the former is coming up with an appropriate sound that conveys "place" rather than "person," and this is always going to be subjective.  I know many a real-world place has sounded like a perfect character name to me!

For me, it is the descriptive names that are hardest, especially when it comes to naming organizations and businesses.  It is no coincidence that it took me a long time to come up with a possible (never mind definite) name for my own catering business, and I'm still not sold on "Harmonies Entwined."  (The name originated because the business plan I created for my coursework was centered around Virginia wine country and its wines; hence Harmonies Ent(wine)d.")  I have a very sensitive meter for the possibility of things sounding hokey, which tends to nix a lot of ideas and make brainstorming difficult - my censor works overtime.

This may have something to do with the fact that I don't summarize well - my first reaction when I try is, "But I've left out this and this and ..."  So a few words intended to label an entire group of people?  That seems inordinately difficult.  That said, I've come up with a few I'm proud of.  I've always liked the Borderwatch, the quasi-military, anti-magic group in Flow - the name stems from the fact that they ... well ... watch the border between fairy and humanity.  The magic-users in my abandoned novel Blood From Stone are known as lithomers, since their magic is very heavily stone-based.

Ultimately, I suppose, names for all but the most central setting elements aren't as crucial - they never appear so prominently as the names of characters.  But the right name can breathe life into a setting just as surely as it can breathe life into a fictional protagonist.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

GoodReads Review: Otherwere

Otherwere: Stories of TransformationOtherwere: Stories of Transformation by Laura Anne Gilman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining and varied collection of short stories, running the gamut from serious to silly to reflective to scientific. These are all contemporary / urban fantasy stories, but with the imaginative types of were-creatures presented, no tale feels repetitive.

Highlights for me were Shariann Lewitt's "Sharewere" (where the shapechanging involves artificial intelligence!) and Greg Cox's "... So Tears Run To A Predestined End." In general, I especially enjoyed the more humorous stories. Two stories didn't work for me. R.A. Salvatore's "The Coach With The Big Teeth" could have achieved the same effect in three pages, unless you're an avid sports fan. Adam-Troy Castro's "The Way Things Ought To Be" has an interesting premise based on were-politics, but its execution is too militant unless you agree with the outlook presented.

Overall, this is a solid anthology with several strong stories. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Tuesday Thoughts

So a confession:  a small part of why I prefer to write secondary world fantasy as opposed to contemporary fantasy is I struggle with names.  "Normal" names often don't have enough resonance for me to easily associate them with characters.  On the other hand, there is a limit to how "weird" the names in a story can get before it becomes comical or breaks disbelief in a different way.  (You can easily make a reader believe the world contains a hidden society of vampires, werewolves, magicians, etc, but characters with bizarre names?  That's just too fantastic.)

In roleplaying games, one of my favorite tactics has been to have the character go by a simple / normal nickname that comes from a more complicated / unusual name.  So Tate was Tatyana; Liv was Sullivan.  In Flow, Kit's actual first name is Enid - her nickname comes from her middle name.  Then, of course, there are the characters who have elaborate, overblown names because it suits their background or the plot.  In "Lip Service," the narrator complains about her mother deciding to name her Arcana.

I find males even harder to name than females - in any setting, but particularly in the contemporary world.  It always seems to me that, societally, parents are more willing to experiment with unusual and colorful names for girls.  And, of course, the girls have "stolen" many an interesting name from their male counterparts!

This reminds me of a story my former teacher tells about Welsh triple harp player Robin Huw Bowen (male).  When he arrived at the airport, she picked up his harp from security ... by claiming to be him.

For me, I think part of the issue is the more common a name is, the more likely it is that I know or have heard of (writer, actor, musician, etc) someone by that name.  Whether consciously or not, my brain has built associations between that name and that individual, and the name no longer free-floats in space to be used at will.

That said, there are always names I just gravitate towards.  I've always been a big fan of the name Vivian, and when I was little, I wanted desperately to be named Cynthia.  (I was a weird little kid.  Have I said that before?)  On the boys' side, for whatever reason, I've always liked plain ol' Jonathan - not Jon or John, but fully spelled out.

... and with that, I flee back into another world.