Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I think I'm going to return to Wednesdays for my (almost) weekly post, since Tuesday has been prep day at work, and a couple long ones have knocked me backwards.

Ironically, this week's post is also all about the food:  still ruminating between two novel ideas, the more traditionally high fantasy setting seems to offer plenty of opportunity for feasts and signature dishes.  I pondered the idea of - separate from the book - putting together either the actual recipes or finding sources for inspiration.  They would be used on my blog for promo.

Now, of course, for the savory side of things, it is well within my capability to actually come up with a fully original "cookbook" to go along with the novel.  The pastry side is a bit more dicey; to claim a recipe as one's own, you have to build it from the ground up, and the ratios and chemistry are very precise.  On the other hand, this wouldn't be for sale no matter how I packaged it, so perhaps a bit of (fully credited!) leeway is allowable.

I suppose the reason I'm posting this is a temperature check:  does anyone think this is a good idea?  Would seeing "recipes from the world of X" pique your interest to read a novel?  Or learn more about the author?  No, wait, that would be a negative ... I don't want people prying into me, aaah!

Of course, all this is academic (for now) if I decide to go with the other concept - not only does the setting not lend itself to the same kind of food, the presence of dishes and taste wouldn't be as important to the book.  Believe me, I wish I were a good enough harp composer to embed music ...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

GoodReads Review: Classics Mutilated

Classics MutilatedClassics Mutilated by Jeff Conner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an anthology of mash-up fiction: where two works of literature meet, or a historical figure meets a mythological one, or ... it's a great concept, rife with ideas even with the restrictions of the public domain. Unfortunately, it also gets three stars from me solely for three stories, each of which were excellent: Anne-Droid of Green Gables (Lezli Robyn), Death Stopped For Miss Dickinson (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and Twilight of the Gods (Chris Ryall). The rest of the stories, for me, ranged from mildly amusing to forgettable to poorly executed.

Many of the stories seem to be simply bizarre for the sake of it. Maybe that was because they were drawing on aspects of their respective classics that I'm not familiar with, but I think that even in an anthology of mash-up, the heart of the story shouldn't depend on this familiarity. For instance, Twilight of the Gods invokes a specific modern tale, but even if you missed that reference, it is still rollicking good fun. I also thought it was odd that an anthology with such broad possibilities would have two stories involving a drug-addled rock star battling dark magic. Neither of them, to me, were so compelling that both had to be included.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

The novel project debate rages on upon the battleground of my innermost thoughts, but I'm starting to trend towards one of two ideas (#2 and #3, for those who might have read the list).  It has occurred to me to try the solution of writing them both at the same time, which has actually worked well for me in the past - particularly when the two projects are of different mindset / tone / setting - with the downfall that when I finish, I suddenly have two books to edit, and that's a lot more hairy.

But my indecision isn't the topic of this blog post.  (Aren't you relieved?  Don't answer that.)  Instead, as I've pondered the elements of one idea (#2), I've realized that one of the downsides is that I have to deal with an aspect of technological advancement that has always puzzled and irritated me:  social media and portable data access.  Though I finally got "Baby's First Smartphone" right before I started school (September of 2013), I still lag behind in a lot of ways.  I adore my desktop setup and can't imagine ever trading it in.  I have limited interest in owning a tablet:  the main upside would seem to be to for portable, annotated recipes.

So it's hard for me to sympathize and sometimes even visualize where this technology might lead.  In Scylla and Charybdis, I indulged in a little wish-fulfillment:  constant connectivity reached a critical mass, until there was a social backlash against it.  People started to consider being unavailable a sign of importance / status.  Of course, access to information remained almost ubiquitous.  The accuracy of that information, on the other hand ... well, it did all start with the internet, didn't it?

Much of this technology - especially when it is fast-forwarded into future possibilities - makes it difficult to come up with a plot where missing persons or fugitives are involved.  Obviously, people have been coming up with ways around surveillance since before the first pair of binoculars, but that's yet another layer of speculation, with the added pressure that the novel may hinge upon whether or not it convinces the reader.  It's the same problem that occurs when you add seers and telepathy to a fantasy story:  how do you create a mystery?  That working with this magically is easier for me is probably telling as to where my mind lies as a storyteller.

Another interesting dimension to all this is how much, in the modern era, we've become accustomed to - even addicted to - the ability to reach anyone, anywhere.  In old movies and stories, one of the first events isolates the characters from the rest of the world.  In practical terms, this serves the purpose of cutting them off, making them rely on themselves and each other ... but nowadays, I think, there's another level of fear and anxiety.

Regardless, the inciting need remains:  cut the characters off from easy answers.  How do you do that when the answers aren't just in the palm of their head, but in an implant in their head?  There are a lot of intriguing options there, but it's a route I have yet to much explore ...

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Word Association

My beloved car (with its vanity plate, HRP BEAT) is a 2003 Subaru Forester.  It long pre-dates the capacity we now take for granted of being able to hook up your phone, iPod, whatever, and play your entire glorious selection of personal music.  The closest it comes is a 6-disc CD changer.

Now, I need music for driving:  it occupies the hyper parts of my brain so I can focus.  I've made something of a game of coming up with themed CDs, everything from Where In The World (songs referencing some geographical location(s)) to Tis A Puzzlement, which was my polite umbrella for songs where I had no idea what in the world was going on in them ...

I've done this so much I've gotten bored of it - of course! - so this time around, I decided to play word association to come up with a sequence.  Here's the first:

I'm Going Out With An Eighty Year Old Millionaire - Kirsty MacColl
Gold Digger - Glee Cast version
Pot of Gold - Dian Diaz
(Chorus contains a reference to "Cinderella on a midnight run" so ...)
On the Steps of the Palace - Into The Woods soundtrack
(Both this song and the next discuss hiding / revealing your identity ...)
Carrier of a Secret - Sissel
(Chorus:  "How many mountains must you climb, how many tears must you cry ...")
River Deep, Mountain High - Celine Dion
Move This Mountain - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
(Chorus:  "Take this chance, I won't repeat this.")
No Second Chance - Blackmore's Night
A Chance With You - Alana Davis
(Chorus:  "But I'm gonna let you fly ...")
I'm Gonna Fly - Sydney Forest
I Heard An Owl - Carrie Newcomer
(Thematically:  "The only peace this world will know can only come from love.")
What About The Love - Amy Grant
(Chorus:  "Angels to the left and the right ...")
Angel - Leona Lewis
Seven Devils - Florence + the Machine
The Seven Deadly Virtues - Camelot soundtrack
(Next song talks a lot about flaws / frailties, so ...)
Don't You Remember - Adele
I'll Remember - Madonna
I Remember L.A. - Celine Dion
The Stars Fell On California - Helen Reddy

I took another starting point and produced:

Fire - Paulina Rubio
Set Fire to the Rain - Adele
It's Raining Men - Geri Halliwell
Alleluias - Solar Twins (... do I really have to explain that segue?)
(Line:  "It's much too late to reinvent the storybook lines anyway ...")
Fairytale - Sara Bareilles
Agony (Reprise) - Into The Woods soundtrack (... and we're back to ITW.  Hush!  But this song also thematically ties into the previous one and "the next best thing.")
(Line:  "All 'round the tower a thick of briar a hundred feet deep ...")
The Path of Thorns (Terms of Endearment) - Sarah McLachlan
Honey - Mariah Carey
Sugar - Heather Nova
(Connection:  both songs start with bus trips)
One of These Days - Michelle Branch
Days - Kirsty MacColl
Ten Days - Celine Dion
(Chorus:  "And all I've gotta do is pray and pray ...")
I Say A Little Prayer - Dionne Warwick
(Chorus:  "Forever and ever ...")
Forever and For Always - Shania Twain
Now and Forever - Anne Murray
Who Wants to Live Forever - Sarah Brightman
(To be honest, I've kind of lost the connection here ... I think it was because this is the opposite of forever)
One - Faith Hill
1-2-3 - Gloria Estefan
One After 909 - Helen Reddy

I'm sort of tempted, for when I get tired of my current selections, of trying to do a six-CD string in sequence ... madness!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Confession time:  I've always had trouble killing characters.  In my early projects, it was a personal running joke.  When I finally managed to kill off a narrator's significant other, I was pleased with myself ... until the story took a turn and I realized it made perfect sense to bring him back to life.  So much for that.

I've gotten better, if you want to call it that, over the intervening years - at least, with novels.  In short fiction, all bets are off.  Killing off a novel character is still a rarity for me.

On the other hand, death, the afterlife and those who have passed on play a role in a lot of my novels.  Journal of the Dead is set in a world where souls jump into the minds of their murderers.  One of the plot threads in Butterfly's Poison involves the ghost of the dead king.  There's even some patter in Who Wants To Be A Hero? involving death, taxes and afterlife.  And even after her death in Unnatural Causes (this is not a spoiler, as it is part of the ten-second pitch), Cailys continues to influence the story.  Vil and Iluenn cope in part through their differing visions of the afterlife.

I suppose that what it boils down to is, for me, death is transient and neutral, so its main consequence is all of sudden, I have a character / toy I can't play with any more.  That's no fun!  Ahem.  Instead, as a writer, I always keep in mind that there are worse things than death ...

So don't let your guard down when reading my works, thinking the characters will get off unscathed.  I have plans in the works.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

If you're a science fiction and fantasy writer - and possibly even if you're not; I've heard that it was discussed in a story in the Wall Street Journal - you probably know something about the tumult over the Hugo awards:  Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, Dancing Aardvarks ... wait, not the last one?  It's hard to keep track.

For those of you utterly burned out on the topic, I want to assure you that I'm not going to talk about the events themselves.  For one thing, with my last quarter of school devouring me whole, I couldn't devote the mental energy to untangling it.  You may know more about it than I do.  Secondly, I was more intrigued by the questions around the issues, the squishy, subjective uncertainties that make it possible (alas!) to have controversy in the first place.

For those of you not familiar with the issue, let me explain briefly:  the Sad Puppies campaign was created a few years ago because a group felt that more traditional, adventure-style SF was being pushed out of the Hugo awards in favor of more liberal (in the US political meaning of the term) viewpoints.  It completed exploded this year when Rabid Puppies decided to hijack it for their own purposes.  (Please forgive if my summary is inaccurate:  I did say I didn't follow it too closely.)

Behind all this kerfluffle is a tension between the idea that the quality of fiction, like all art, is subjective; and the action of presenting an award, which gives the veneer of some objective quality.  Let's add one more statement to the narrative:  diversity is a good thing and necessary in a genre that builds upon possibilities, but we don't want to set up a forced, artificial diversity.  (Already, you can see the questions bubbling up.)  What am I thinking of when I say "artificial" diversity?  It's when a work rises to the top not because of merit, but because its author or subject matter checks a particular box.  It would be like saying that every novel awards slate has to include one urban fantasy, two epic fantasies, one hard science fiction novel and one soft science fiction novel ... even if there were three amazing soft SF books that year.

But this all circles right back around to the subjectivity of art.  Who gets to say those three SF books were more worthy, anyway?  Can you cry foul, point to an agenda, on an intrinsically subjective choice?  On the other hand, can you expect anyone to make a subjective choice without bias, whether intentional or not?  In critique groups, writers often learn to distinguish between "not my taste" and "bad" when reviewing stories, but that separation of self only goes so far.

Clearly there is some objective quality to fiction:  grammar, style, clear sentence structure, avoidance of cliches.  From there, though, the slippery slope resumes.  It was once the fashion for the writer to address the reader directly in the narrative; this was part of good writing.  This fell out of favor and became a big no-no.  And nowadays?  I haven't seen one recently, but I'm sure you can find stories that include or even hinge on the writer talking to the reader.  (Then there's Simon Hawke's books where the villain confronts the author directly, but that's another story.)  Much of what is "good writing" is part of evolving cultural standards.

So what about popularity as our objective standard?  I think most of us would agree that some of the most popular books - the Twilight series; Eragon - are not in any way good literature.  This isn't even pure snobbery:  when I read The DaVinci Code, I kept thinking, "This is bad writing.  Why am I still reading this?"  Even if it isn't a "quality" book, the pacing in The DaVinci Code pulls you on, and it's easy to see the source of its addictive spread.

At this point, I think I have successfully concluded that I know nothing.

Back to the idea of cultural framework, in a larger sense.  Through fiction, television and other storytelling mediums, we are conditioned practically from birth with specific expectations of how a story will progress.  Goodness knows, these have changed:  again, in earlier periods, writers (and readers) had no problems with characters spontaneously discovering they had rich parents; Greek plays had literally deus ex machina, where a god would be lowered / brought in by machine to fix plot problems.  Writers walk a fine line between satisfying expectations - but boring the reader, who (even subconsciously) knows what is going to happen - and changing things up - stray too far from the conventions, and the reader is unsettled, angry, rejects the story.  (Oh, and everyone's tolerance is a little different, too.  What, you thought it would be easy?)

Even within western society, however, we don't all absorb the same narrative sensibilities.  Our personal experience and upbringing influences what we take from the stories we encounter.  Imagine a child raised on a space station.  (Hey, this IS a post about SF/F.)  She probably would have a different reaction to the setting of the movie Alien, just to start.  If she were a writer, how would she use the quiet of space as a metaphor?

Back to the problem and the question:  if a work doesn't jive with our narrative sensibilities, does that make it poorly written?  Is it an author's job to be universal?  Or does quality mean decoding?

Now we run into the old problem that literature has always had, and SF/F has more recently acquired:  we're afraid to admit that we don't understand, to say that we don't like something because we don't "get" it, for fear of being labeled dim or unimaginative.  That little voice in the back of our head murmurs:  if I don't understand it, it must be deep.

You'll notice a lot of questions here and not a lot of answers.  I don't have answers; I'm still looking for them.  One thing I do know for sure:  the paradox of quality being both subjective and objective means that controversy, accusations of favoritism, conspiracy and collusion, are always only a breath away ... but hopefully, before we react in anger, it gets us thinking.