Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Recently, I've realized that when I read, I don't create continuous imagery.  Instead, when I first encounter a new element, whether it be a character or a location or a particularly complicated tapestry, my attention shifts to build a mental image.  At the same time, I create kinesthetic associations with the character, place, etc:  the feeling I get when reading about them.  It is that wordless package that I manipulate throughout my reading, like a game piece on a board.  In most cases, I could probably unpack the original image from the kinesthetic handle, but I don't often go back to it while reading.

If this sounds very technical / difficult to explain, it is - precisely because there aren't concrete words for the way I access elements during reading.  I am very much a full-body person, and when I think of a book or story, I immediately get an impression of how it "feels" to me.  A light, comedic novel feels different than a heavier, formal story.  The book that is absorbing but dense to read has its own kinesthetic coding.

I do this as a writer, too.  I pay special attention to my descriptions and the array of senses, but once they're in place, I do my writing on a less visual level.  It's probably why as a writer, I try to describe characters - especially the main character / narrator - as early as possible, even if I have to tweak the flow a little:  it's what I prefer as a reader.  Otherwise, my kinesthetic handle supercedes the written appearance.

It's also why I have such trouble with illustrations or doing "casting calls" for characters.  (A casting call is where you imagine what actors would play the characters, and/or try to find images that fit - the latter being more broad because you could pick a random model.  Dark Beauty is full of eye-candy that shouts "story" ...)  Even if the image is technically correct, it is almost impossible for that image to also evoke the same feeling as my invisible kinesthetic handle.

The final odd quirk that this method of handling fiction causes for me is that I often need a  specific font to write with.  If it doesn't look right on the page, it doesn't feel right in my brain.  Luckily, this need has faded and I'm much less picky - but I will consciously only use Trebuchet MS, for instance, for lighter-hearted or modern projects.  And don't get me started on the fact that I write in 8 - 10 pt fonts because I have Word blown up to 150% so it fills up more of the screen ...

When it comes down to it, I'm doing all my creating with my body.  It has to get translated into words, but it has to go through that channel first and come back the same way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Even when I was very young, I wanted to be a writer.  I blithely assumed I would be able to make a living at it.  It took some years for the reality to set in:  being a full-time writer was possible, but the odds were against it.  So I started looking for something else I could love as a supplementary career.  I went through a few permutations, but found that I kept coming back to other creative fields - none of which were particularly lucrative, mind.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I didn't want to be a full-time writer.  For me, the coordination of having a second profession had become an important part of my life and even an important part of my writing.  There are two reasons for this, I think.  The first is that I am an incubator:  I do much of my thinking and plotting on the backburner, often while doing something else.  If left with "only" writing, where would I go to allow my projects to simmer?

The second reason is that life itself is fodder both for story ideas and for the finer details of writing, from character quirks to snippets of description to unexpected reactions.  I wonder if missing those other aspects of life would turn my writing too far inward, too dependent on itself ... and that would be a shame.

Now, all this said, I wouldn't at all mind making enough that I *could* stop other work, and any other income would be gravy ... but that's pie in the sky.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Goodreads Review: Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan

Faery Lands Forlorn (A Man of His Word, Book 2)Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Volume two of this series follows two characters - and two plot threads - half a world away. The commonborn faun Rap, with his word of power that gives him farsight and allows to communicate with animals, tumbles into the wilds of Faerie with a pair of uneasy allies. Meanwhile, headstrong queen Inos - though queen in name only - finds herself in the exotic foreign kingdom of Arakkaran.

This is epic fantasy at its best: even when the storyline involves global events, it centers with brilliant focus on the problem of its two characters. It's refreshing to find secondary characters who are so complex, too - they don't simply function as allies or enemies, but move from one to the other depending on the motive or moment. I have to compare this book to Duncan's later books Children of Chaos and Mother of Lies; as in those volumes, the plot feels like a perfectly natural and tumultuous outgrowth of the collision of people, rather than an artificial construct.

But it's also easy to see the evolution of both Duncan's writing and the fantasy field. Much of the worldbuilding in this book, particularly character races, is rather cursory and mainstream - fauns, goblins, imps, and so forth. There's also chunks of narrative devoted to infodumping. They may fit very well into the story (they're typically given by a knowledgeable character to an ignorant one about something that very much affects the circumstances), but I am still struck that their length and directness would be a difficult sell in a modern novel. Duncan also handles this with much more grace in his later writings.

In some ways, Inos is almost the cliche headstrong princess, but she is an example that perfectly illustrates why this trope became so popular ... and unlike many of her modern imitators, she has good rationale for everything she does, and especially endearing, she is quick to apologize and quite aware of her faults. (Another sign of the times: the book blurb portrays the whole series as Rap's story, but I would say that Inos carries the weight of this volume.)

The only reason I didn't give this book another star is it suffers from Book-Two syndrome: as the second volume of five, though a lot happens, the characters don't seem to make much progress towards their ultimate goal. This makes finishing the book a bit of an exercise in frustration ... but if you have the rest of the series (a big if, considering they're now out of print - after having only #1 and #3 for the longest time, I immediately snapped up #2, #4 and #5 when I found them in a used bookstore), absolutely read on.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

So confession:  I have a banter addiction.

I love writing byplay, snarky asides and snappy patter amongst characters.  If ever two characters who are clever, witty, sarcastic or just plain talkative get together, they are bound to riff off each other.  Sometimes, it only takes one character and anyone they know they can get a rise out of.  I have to be careful that these exchanges don't go on so long they derail the motion of the story entirely - and, of course, since minimal description is helpful to keep the pacing, it runs the risk of becoming talking heads.

Then there are narrators like Vil (or Trin in the zombie novella I'm working on) who have a bit of an askew world view, and that shows through in the way events are described from their perspective.  If this is not quite banter, then it is a close cousin.

In Who Wants To Be A Hero? I let the banter run wild:  it was a humorous novel, after all, and the strong structure kept the story moving.  With Unnatural Causes, I often decided to cut it off, particularly when Vil and quasi-ally, quasi-antagonist Duvalis got into it ... but given the final length of the manuscript, I may go back to some of those conversations and let them take a natural course for a few more exchanges.  Of course, Flow has quite a bit of patter between Kit and Hadrian, the first (and probably my favorite) exchange being where they riff about Hannibal Lecter.

(Of course, one only knows that Lecter has a rare form of polydactyly (like Hadrian, hence the initial salvo) unless one has read Hannibal, the book on which the movie is based, which begs a question about Kit's fifteen year old reading habits ...

It might be mentioned in the novel version of Silence of the Lambs, too?  Not sure, been too long since I read it.

Maybe the reason I like banter so much is I myself am hopelessly addicted to theatric asides ...

(Is this the right way to punctuate multiple parenthetical paragraphs?)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Snippets

Rather than posting from works in progress, today is a quick look back:

Most of the lights in the house were off, but Kit found the gloom more comfortable than the gingerbread warmth of normal light. She made her way down the front hall by feel.

“Hey, Terri?” she called. She found the wood handrail into the living room, trying to shake off a weird sense of tension, as if someone were looking over her shoulder. “I want you to meet…”

The sensation deepened as the shadows gained color, a blur of muted hues that closed in and hit her hard. A fist smacked her chest and her body went awry in response, arms flying, spine cracking into the rail. She howled; her second muscles coiled in readiness, all wild animation and adrenaline poisoning. Instinctively, she tried to place where her attacker stood. Something slammed into her left leg.

She twisted with it, trying to roll over the blow, but a flare of pain sent her mind screaming – not the tendon, not when it had taken so long, not when another pull could damage it permanently – and she surrendered, collapsing in a puddle on the steps. A long white-gloved hand caught her chin and knocked her head back against the rail. Hooded grey eyes played over Kit’s face, neutral, assessing. She saw a flash of metal out of the corner of her eye and flinched. The point of a knife replaced the hand.

“I know what you can do,” the woman said. “The first false move will be your last.”

Flow, Chapter Three 


From Taming The Weald, after Keryn has discovered a mysterious girl in the Weald, a small woodland maintained on her space station:

On the walk to her quarters, Keryn talked about her community in the station, the school, the beautiful views of the void—she didn’t have the heart to tell Verdant there was nothing else out there. The station was the only remnant of civilization in a galaxy shattered long ago.

Halfway home, she wondered aloud, “How do you know our language, if you’ve never been out of the Weald?”
“I hear people talking when they walk past,” Verdant said, “and the trees talk to me, too. They teach me words you no longer use.”

Keryn shook her head, deciding not to correct the girl. Obviously, living in the Weald had confused her understanding of what was real and what was imaginary. Most children grew out of that at a younger age than Verdant's. 

In a ruined fortress in Stone Unturned (Unburied Treasures anthology), our narrator uses her powers to divine its past:

I knelt on the dividing line between cracked, mossy tiles.  “Givesan, Hawk of the Heavens, Father of Humanity, open my ears … open my heart.”  I sang the prayer, letting the melody shape itself.  It was new with each Sounding.  “Carry me under your wings as you carried our mother, through islands and nations of time.”

The ruined hall began to shrink, transcended by music that was more than sound.  I continued my prayer.

“Tilasta, Wolf of the Deeps, Mother of Monsters, be merciful.  Leash your fury.  Grant me passage through the unknown.  Keep close to your breast the evils you bore, more potent than those of humankind …”

Harmony and light.  My senses filled with memories of a blazing hearth and a thousand candles, fur rugs sprawling across the polished white stone to trap the heat …  the press of hundreds of ghostly bodies, most of them elegant and erudite, but also the scampering of servants whose lives history would never remember.

The theme of the strongest memory carried above the bustle.  I focused on it.

Friday, July 03, 2015

GoodReads Review: Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

Black UnicornBlack Unicorn by Tanith Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Found it. Found a *bone.*"

This book was an often-reread part of my childhood, a cherished favorite. When I heard the sad news that Tanith Lee had died, I knew I had to return to it and read it again.

The Black Unicorn is a delight, swift reading despite its poetic turns. (Look back at most of the descriptions, and you'll find that there is little concrete detail: instead, Lee uses words to create an emotion that compels the reader to fill in the blanks. It's gifted wordsmithing.) The book has a deep magical sensibility that permeates the story without ever feeling overblown. It is witty, wry and tongue-in-cheek in the way that only reality can be. The characters are sometimes odd and almost absurd in exactly the way people are. And I love the peeve - a perfect companion animal with all the mischief it causes.

The only reason this book doesn't get full stars from me is that it still does read as a childhood book; it is perhaps ideally suited for those a little younger than the main character (fifteen or so). There a few places where things seem odd, implausible or young to an adult reader, but I still very much enjoyed my return to it.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Like many women, I've always been self-conscious about my weight.  (This is going somewhere writing related, I promise:  bear with me.)  Even at my thinnest, I knew I would never be down to slender - there's a point at which bone structure intervenes, and I have healthy doses of Italian and German in my genetic background.

So when I started writing, if I ever considered my characters' weight and bone structure, they tended to be slender, thin ... and in a few cases, even borderline unhealthy.  I was even uncomfortable writing a heavier character.  I was pretty rocked when I read Pigs Don't Fly, and the main character Summer suddenly breaks down about her sizable weight.  Wait (no pun intended), what?

Fairly obvious this was wish fulfillment for me, but how many wishes does one need?  I started working on recognizing this tendency and varying it ... when it comes up in the story.  My RPG characters tend to still follow this mode, because gaming - especially MU* gaming, which is more immersive - is more of a lark, more an opportunity to "be" exactly who you want, rather than telling a specific story.

I had a similar pattern with the height of my characters.  When I was little, I was told that I would probably end up around 5'11".  Having maxed out at 5'6.5", I was for a long time irrationally furious at the world.  Oh, the angst!  It's no coincidence that (again, particularly in RPGs) my ladies tended to be very tall ... or, because I was intrigued by the logistics of it, very short.

Recognizing the pattern is the first step to changing it, of course, but I still indulge in it now and again.  It's a bit like having a bowl of fictitious ice cream.  And isn't all fiction wish fulfillment, in the end, even if it's for something shallow and superficial?