Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

So I have to make a terrible confession:  I am addicted to to-do lists.

Setting out tasks in black and white makes them feel more manageable, and erasing them is an immensely satisfying feeling.  (So much so that, when I do something I forgot to put on the list, I feel cheated of that sensation!)  It allows me to organize longer tasks step-by-step and gives me artificial - and very necessary! - deadlines for projects that might otherwise hang in "when I feel like it" limbo indefinitely.  I feel virtuous when I work ahead and accomplish something from tomorrow's tasks; conversely, sometimes I have to use the list to beat my workaholic self down and wait until tomorrow to tackle something!

What does this have to do with writing?  Two things:

First, I just sat down and did a list of the projects that would / should occupy me through the end of the year.  I was feeling adrift; putting them down in an outlined format makes me feel as if I have direction again.

Second, for me, one of the best things about lists is that it takes the thinking out of minutiae and minor decisions.  I don't have to remember that the trash goes out tonight.  I don't have to dither over whether I'm going to do a tedious CD sorting project - it's jotted on my list for the weekend.

All of this gives me more brainspace for the fun stuff and the really important decisions ... such as, for instance, how magic is going to work in my next project ...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

GoodReads Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

ThieftakerThieftaker by D.B. Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In colonial Boston (mere years before the Revolutionary War), thieftaker Ethan struggles to make a living while hiding his skill as a conjurer - magical ability that could have him hanged as a witch. When a young woman of means is murdered with no visible mark on her body, Ethan is hired ostensibly to recover a valuable necklace she wore ... but is drawn deep into the matter of her murder.

This is an excellent book: tense, fast-paced, and well written, the prose clear, concise and evocative. Ethan faces threats and conflict from all aspects of his life, and both his adversaries and allies are interesting characters in their right. I particularly liked the young minister, Mr. Pell. And it doesn't feel as if Ethan's story has abruptly begun at the start of the novel: he has a rich, convoluted backstory that intensifies the conflicts in the present. And while the main plot of the novel resolves, many threads are foreshadowed and/or developed that provide fertile ground for sequel(s).

The historical aspect is also compelling, well researched and integrated - I never felt like I was being lectured, but the setting leapt off the page. I admit, I gave a little bit of a fangirl squeal when Samuel Adams was introduced, and a modern reader might expect that of course, Ethan would fall into the righteous cause ... but the character maintains his own perspective, one that views the young rebellion with wariness and questions both their methods and their motives.

I really debated whether to give this book 5 stars, and if I had been able to give a half star, I would have, but I had some small complaints that kept me from that rating. His relationship with Kannice, while it seems affectionate, seemed devoid of passion. I wasn't in the slightest bit interested in seeing behind their closed doors, mind you, but the fade-to-black moments always seemed ... clinical / businesslike, somehow, because of this. I think the foreshadowing of the eventual murderer and motive could have been done earlier in the book. There is also a point where rapidfire spells are cast, and instead of it feeling tense and staccato, it starts to feel like a D&D session.

But all this is really minor, and just to justify not giving the book top marks - I really did enjoy it and highly recommend it, especially for history buffs. Future volumes promise even more entanglement in the events of historical Boston.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tasty treats

Allow me a non-writing indulgence for a bit:  I am thinking of offering some freelance catering / pastry / treats.  I would love input on what interests you from this list, and/or what turns you off, and additional suggestions are welcome!  A few obvious things are missing because I don't have a recipe that satisfies me yet.  For instance, I am a sugar cookie connoisseur, and I haven't found a recipe I want to put my name on yet.

Oh, and I have an irrational hatred of blueberry muffins.

Also, I don't have a lot of access to hot-or-cold holding equipment, so I am focusing on items that can be safely stored, held and eaten at room temperature.

So to make a long story short (too late!), here's the brainstorm list:

Lemon polenta cake – this has been my go-to cake, rich and dense
Cheesecake – flavors?
Chocolate truffles – possible filling flavors include chocolate, whisky, peanut butter, almond, espresso, raspberry, blueberry, ginger … I had toyed with a “surprise pack,” in which you get (maybe a dozen?) with two or three flavors.
Scones – plain; dried cherry and chocolate; ginger; pistachio and golden raisin
Danishes – raspberry; hazelnut cream; pistachio cream; fig; lemon; spinach and feta
Cookies – sea salt chocolate chip; peanut butter; cornmeal currant
Salsas / sauces – tomatillo-serrano salsa; chutneys / raitas; some thought pending here
Soups (to reheat) – cannellini bean curry

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I've been writing a story where the taste of a single food - an apple - is central to the storyline, and I've discovered something odd:  there are very few independent words to describe taste.

Now, your immediate reaction may be to cry out that of course there are thousands of descriptive words for tastes - as many as there are foods that can be eaten.  But what are we really saying when we say something tastes like an apple, a pear, asparagus?  At what point does describing a dish simply become a laundry list of ingredients?  If I have never eaten an orange, to say that something "tastes like an orange" will mean nothing to me.  There are no universal words to put together to describe that citrus taste.  (Citrus itself simply refers to the class of fruits ...)

So we try to describe new foods by combining familiar ones.  Jicama, for instance, is often compared to an apple or celery.  I find its starchy, fibrous nature to be very similar to potato.

Aha, you say - there are some words!  But starchy, fibrous, dry, moist ... all of these things don't describe taste, but rather the tactile experience of food, the mouthfeel.

There are other words we use that don't say much of anything:  delicious; succulent; cooked to perfection; tasty ...

Then, of course, there's the metaphorical.  If I say something tastes like childhood and late night bonfires, that may evoke a very vivid sensation for you.  If nothing else, it will inform the tone of the story.

In the end, though, these comparisons, metaphors, the mouthfeel, the overall experience, creates a taste for the reader ... even if it is an illusion, as solid as air.  And does anything in fiction have a firmer foundation, really?

Thursday, August 13, 2015


This has been on my mind for a bit, but I just had a day at work that required me to put it in practice, so ... I have made two resolutions about my outlook on life.

The first comes about because I frequently have four, five or more tasks that I need to complete in a day.  When something takes longer than expected (or even the normal amount of time!), I tend to get stressed out, no matter how much I would normally enjoy it.  So:

1.  I am present in the moment, focus on what I'm doing *now,* and enjoy it.

The second comes about because, like many people, I am my own worst critic.  I expect perfection from myself, even the first time out - and especially with my catering work, I am still learning.  A lot.

2.  I am gentle with myself, especially with new experiences.  I focus on what I accomplished and did well, and then move on to what I can do better for the future.

The word "fail" needs to leave my vocabulary.

This was mainly intended for my work life, but it does apply to my writing life, too.  It's so hard to put aside the rejections and the near-misses and just write, but it's the only way to truly love the writing itself - and since I couldn't stop if I wanted to, that's the best way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Words are not static:  meanings shift; new ones arise; old ones become archaic - some words even mean their own opposites; historical origins are forgotten; and we add new ones, usually cognates of existing words.  To echo a cliche modern complaint, whoever thought "friend" would become a verb?  And who uses "nonplussed" correctly nowadays?

This poses challenges for the secondary world fantasy writer.  In all probability, a totally accurate story - one using no words that owe their existence to specific incidents in Earth history - would be almost impossible to write for its limited vocabulary.  Just removing the words invented by Shakespeare (tranquil, rant ...) would probably be a challenge.

So we're generally left with avoiding words that have an obvious real world connotation.  For instance, "spartan" has a fairly direct and obvious connection with the Greek city-state and the ... well ... spartan lifestyle of its inhabitants.  On the other hand, would we look twice at "gypped," which is derived from gypsy?

Jane Lindskold has a neat example of taking this in the other direction.  In her Firekeeper books, one of the historical rulers is a queen named Zorana, known (among other things) for her plain, straightforward manner.  So, when things are unnecessarily convoluted or ornate, the characters now and again refer to them as being "unzoranic."  This is the only word coined in the books, and it isn't overused:  instead, it is a perfect little tidbit of worldbuilding.

Then again, what about words that are period / historical, but that feel too modern for the setting?  In looking up a complete list of Shakespeare's inventions, I see "advertising" and "skim milk" - neither of which feel like Elizabethan words to me!  It's up to the writer, the word and the moment to decide where they can fool the reader ... into believing the truth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dose of Aconite sold to ElectricSpec

ElectricSpec just accepted my story "A Dose of Aconite" for publication in September!  (Second sale in two days, details pending ...)

This story is set in the same world as Flow.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Confession:  I hate chapters.

As a reader, I'm indifferent to them - I rarely pay much attention to where the breaks occur or stop at the end of a chapter.  Of late, they've only mattered because I've been reading a fiction book and a nonfiction book at the same time and swapping at the chapter breaks.

As a writer, they drive me nuts.  I tend to have a general sense of my story's path, but I work without an outline, and I often find complications or expansions develop as I'm writing.  Because of this, I may start a chapter and have an idea of where I want it to end, then find as I get within the approximate word count I've chosen for my chapter length ... oh, I'm not anywhere near that cliff-hanger.  So I have to create another one, and then what I'd intended to be the end of chapter comes in the middle of the next ...

When I wrote Flow, I had the oh-so-brilliant idea (note the sarcasm) to name the chapters, which meant even more headaches when I found that the event for which I'd planned to name the chapter wasn't going to happen, or wasn't happening quite the way I'd thought, or some character said something that made a better chapter title, so now I've just thought this up for nothing.

Another reason why chapters bug me, I think, is because they exist purely outside of the story.  To use a roleplaying term, they are OOC - Out Of Character.  Except in the most meta of novels, no character is pointing out that look, here comes a chapter break!  Who Wants To Be A Hero? occurs in episodes, so that was a natural way of dividing the narrative.  For Journal of the Dead, the third person part of the narrative uses a handful of very short chapters, but once we're into the journal, it is divided up as Rhiane's writing is:  by days and when she starts / stops writing.

But chapters seem to be a common enough convention - some agent guidelines, for instance, don't even suggest an alternative writing sample size if you *don't* use chapters - so I fear I may have to contort myself back into them.  We shall see.