Thursday, October 29, 2015

GoodReads Review: Songs of Love & Death

Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love (Kushiel's Legacy #1.5; Ph├Ędre's Trilogy, #1.5; The Dresden Files, #11.5; Outlander, #8.5)Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful anthology full of strong, compelling stories that span the range of the genre, from urban fantasy to traditional, to the science fiction of distant worlds, and even a superhero tale. Even the relatively weakest stories have something to offer - and I say relatively because there were few disappointments. Each story finds a different way to tug at your heart strings, which is exactly what this anthology should do.

Why only four stars? Two reasons:

1. This is partly personal, but I find the inclusion of stories that directly connect to an authors' series to be frustrating. If you are following the series, but haven't reached the particular volume on which the story depends, you either have to risk being spoiled or skip it. If you aren't following the series, there can be elements in the tale that fly over your head. The former applies to the Dresden Files / Jim Butcher story "Love Hurts." When it comes to Diana Gabaldon's "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" and Jacqueline Carey's "You, and You Alone," these were both beautiful stories, but they felt as if they were designed to cater primarily to fans. Carey's in particular pulled me along, eagerly awaiting what ended up to be a "So what?" conclusion. Gabaldon's turns on deus ex machina.

I also feel as if (though I'm not sure) Marjorie M. Liu's "After The Blood" falls into this category. I like stories where things are subtle or implied, but this story refuses to state anything directly. One simply gets exhausted keeping track of suppositions and waiting for confirmation of something.

2. The weaker stories all seem to have a similar flaw: a plot point or resolution isn't adequately foreshadowed / given enough attention earlier in the narrative for the resolution to be satisfying.

Those complaints aside, I generally loved this anthology. As mentioned above, it provides a crazy amount of genre variety - there's probably something for everyone. Also, generally speaking, these are longer, meaty stories without dragging, which is always a treat. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I set off on the journey that was my first novel when I was too young to know any better about much of anything.  I was coming back from a Shakespeare Festival in Canada, which I had attended with my mother, my best friend, and her mother.  At the Duty Free Shop on the border, I bought a stuffed animal black cat (this will tell you how young I was - "stuffies" were still a part of my life) which I named Saundra.  (The U being very important for accurate pronounciation - it was definitely "sawn-dra" in my head.)  I had a nearly identical white cat at home, who was named Snowball.  My mother insisted on calling them Snowball and Dirtball.

This is the same trip, I should note, where the supposed adults, upon hearing that I had an aversion to the cotton balls being pulled apart - to me, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard; still is - decided to chase me with cotton balls.  When my friend and I retreated to our room, they blew the cotton balls under the door.

Back to the writerly side of this adventure, my naming of the new faux feline was accompanied by the decision that both could communicate with telepathy, and that they were companions of an old sorceress named Mordue.  (I am fairly sure that the name was heavily influenced by the Prydain Chronicles.  It does feel very Welsh.)  This was about the time of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill - augh, I'm dating myself! - and with my typical oddball sideways squint at the world, I thought that Valdez would be a great name for a princess.  I had never heard it pronounced, so I considered that the "e" was short - VAL-dehz rather than the actual Val-DEEZ, which I think is terrible sounding.  Pfft, reality.

And ... I decided to write a novel.  I had written stories before, but I had never tackled a novel.  Of course, it was riddled with cliches:  the rebellious princess; the shadowy evil figure; an enemy soldier who falls for the princess.  I do like to think that I started with some shadow of a less-typical premise:  the inciting incident of the book is when the sorceress, who has been mentoring the princess, is kidnapped.  Valdez sets off to rescue her.

The mistakes in this first foray are wince-worthy to me now, I'll admit.  Besides the above-mentioned, I tried to excuse modern slang like the word "guy" with in-world explanations for how the terms had originated.  There were places where I dented the fourth wall.  Luckily, I had an adult mentor named Martina, who I had met through the Dinosaur Forums on CompuServe (augh, I'm dating myself again).  She helped me with craft issues, which I listened to, and gently suggested that publication was always a very long road, which I more or less ignored.

At the time, the main flaw to my perspective was the length:  when I finished the tale, it was by far the longest thing I'd ever written, but not anywhere close to novel length.  So I turned around and started writing a "Book Two" / Part Two that occurred years later.  Book Three was Mordue's story, and since she was telling it to my other main characters, it seemed only natural to write it in first person.  This would be the first contained narrative I created that was novel length; Book Three really WAS a book.

So much for The Cats of Mordue, my first novel.  Sometime after or during the later parts of Cats (there would eventually be five parts completed; part six was never finished), I started working on my next novel in a different world.  This new book was a project I would come back to a few years later and rewrite, and it became the first novel manuscript I ever submitted.

Of course, at the time, I was yet to understand why anyone would want - if given the option - to send three chapters and a synopsis when it was so much simpler to mail the whole thing ...

Growing pains, I tell you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I think most writers have used dreams for inspiration, whether it be a bizarre image, a random sequence of events, or even a whole plot.  These dreams may seem like gifts from the subconscious, outside of our control.

Occasionally, though, we have lucid dreams:  dreams where we are aware we are dreaming and can change events.  For some people, lucid dreaming is an elusive rarity to be chased down.  For others, we remember being told as children how to deal with the nightmare of being chased:  stop and ask the monster what it wants.

I do a lot of lucid dreaming.  It's not something I set out to do:  it's simply something that happens.  I often have dreams that are partial or full plotlines, with a large cast of characters, some worldbuilding, some mayhem ...

Where the lucid dreaming comes in most often, then, is I find myself critiquing the plot ("No, I don't like this; it would be more interesting with X," or "Let's change this up.") and altering it according to my tastes.  In most of these dreams, I identify as a movie director, but there are also some where I operate as a novelist ... down to rewriting backstory and even being able to visualize or feel the sense of written pages.

Even in my dreams, I'm doomed to specialize in novels:  frequently, I have a sense of multiple books, histories spanning generations, different planets, countries ... often, these details are hazy, but my dreaming mind knows they exist.

Sometimes I wonder if that's where that occasional sense of write deja vu comes from ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

In some respects, this may be the best time (so far) to be a fantasy (science fiction / speculative fiction) writer.  The genre has entered the public consciousness as it never has before, bringing in new readers and making the general public more accepting of the stretches of imagination that fantasy needs from its readers.  

As a lover and consumer of fantasy, I can turn on my television and take my pick from shows with fantastic themes, and I'm noticing the worldbuilding is wider and deeper.  (I am particularly taken with the little social behavior "digs" in the recent Minority Report series.)  I will admit, after the Lord of the Rings movies came out, we had a string of almost exclusively contemporary / urban YA adaptations, which concerned me ... but then such efforts as Game of Thrones came to the fore.  So now I can say that I write fantasy and *not* receive blank looks or awkward questions about erotica.  Grant, now the question is likely to be, "Oh, so like Twilight?" or "Oh, so like Game of Thrones?" ... and I really ought to come up with some snarky answers for that.  "Yes, exactly like Game of Thrones, but with more characters," ought to be suitably terrifying ... 

On the other hand, there are some trends that take the field away from an author's dream, or at least the dream that I've always had, of being able to go into the bookstore, take one of *my* books off the shelf, and hold it in my hands.  Bookstores are floundering and failing, with major chains going under in the recent past.  The big publishing houses that regularly deal with bookstores have become increasingly difficult to penetrate for new writers.

On the other hand, a host of small and medium-sized publishers have flourished, putting out great new material into the world, and giving many authors a chance to have their dream ... or more prosaically, just make money.  The downside for me is that many of these smaller houses don't / can't put books on the shelves, and some of them don't offer print options, but to some, that is a minor issue ... and a more than fair trade-off for being able to deal on a more personal level with their publishers.

Personally, I love the fact that Double Dragon offers their books print on demand, so I've had the opportunity to hold Flow in my hands, even to autograph it.  Still, that novel with a major house is my ultimate goal.

Another result of this proliferation of publications is the maddening variety of choices ... and suddenly, marketing becomes much more important.  An author has to find a way to make their voices compelling in a social media tidbit or advertisement, which is quite a different skill from writing a good novel!  It's one more hurdle to jump to success.

So for a fantasy writer, it's harder and easier all at once - more for some of us, less for others.  It's all about what we want out of the process, and finding the right way to trick the world into giving it to us ...