Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Meanderings

Happy Holidays to all!  The days are (slowly) getting longer and sunlight is on its way.

Working on the edits for Scylla and Charybdis while writing Surgeburnt has made me aware of the similarities under the hood.  Both are very different worlds with even more diverse characters and plots, but - of course! - they come from the same mind, so some of the sensibilities and the assumptions that lead to world developments are similar.

One of those has made me very aware that I'm a bit obsessed with the book as a physical, unchanging entity - paper and ink.  I'm still a devoted reader of paper books:  I don't own an e-reader and will read on-screen only when absolutely necessary.  This is also partly why anthologies are my favored source for short fiction reading:  printed magazines have become increasingly rare, but anthologies have, if nothing else, a solid niche with most major publishers.

In the first draft of Scylla and Charybdis, I had no clear thought of giving Anaea an interest in books:  it was something that developed in the writing process.  In later drafts, and especially now as I'm working with an editor, I've been pushed to truly examine the allure.  Is it sensory, tactile, an experience beyond the words on the page?  Is it the fact that the printed page cannot be altered - at least, not in one specific volume?  A digital file can easily be altered.  A book, packed away safely, will have the same words, the same font, the same look centuries later.

In the world of Scylla and Charybdis, bookcraft is a fringe endeavor - much like people today enjoy constructing period costumes and trying to replicate authentic instruments.  It's a way of preserving the integrity of history.

As I did my worldbuilding for Surgeburnt, I knew I wanted to have ink-and-paper books in that setting as well - but perhaps more prominently.  I followed a similar line of thought, the idea that the virtue of a book is the fact it doesn't change to whim and fashion.  In the case of this setting, entertainment - television, movies, etc - became increasingly user-customized, with consumer input bombarding the system.  The job of the scriptwriter became to incorporate these whims into divergent storylines.

Much of history, though, involves backlash - a process of thesis and antithesis, finally resolved in synthesis.  (I used this idea in other parts of my worldbuilding as well.  For instance, in some ways, the Empire in Scylla and Charybdis has regressed from our current societal tendency to be constantly connected.  Being hard to reach / contact became a sign of status.)  In this way, people in the Surgeburnt world came back to books.

... and thus, the Order of Librarians rose to prominence.  A small group associated with the Library of Congress, their initial purview was merely preservation.  When the market demand for printed books resurged, they were ideally poised to meet the need and expand across the country.  They also formed a retrieval department tasked with hunting down and acquiring antique volumes by any means necessary.

With all of this, you might think I'm vehemently opposed to digital media.  I'm not:  I love the possibilities of internet research, and the fact that you can "shelve" a book in multiple categories offers huge possibilities for readers ... among so many other advantages.  But I think a case may be made, on the other hand, that I am obsessed with the paper book.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

GoodReads Reviews: Fight Like A Girl - ed. Roz Clarke

Fight Like A GirlFight Like A Girl by Roz Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the exotic depths of alien space to futuristic slums, from down-to-earth fantasy realms to those embraced by gods, this anthology features female fighters in all their forms. The worldbuilding and action scenes are highlights of these tales; the fights are tense and engrossing, and the worlds feel authentic and lived-in. (There were a few cases where the worldbuilding became heavy; too much information that didn't always contribute. I wondered if these were stories that attached to a novel or larger series.)

The stories range from traditional arcs to vignettes - snapshots of a day in the life that (generally) resolve in satisfying fashion, regardless of loose ends. A couple didn't work for me because they felt as if they ended too early: I was unhappy not having the answer to the question, "What next?" There were also a few brilliant twists.

Another facet of this anthology I appreciated was the organization of the stories. The first story shows the female character a distance; the second takes the reader closer ... and then we step into the skin of the lady protagonist. It's a great journey.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Meanderings

Here's a thought about experience, change and skills through the lens of roleplaying games, but applied to writing and life.

A few years ago, I was a staffer on an online roleplaying game.  For those not familiar with RPG systems, the one involved here is point-based:  everyone gets a certain number of points to build their character, buying skills (diplomacy), advantages (wealth), attributes (strength, intelligence), powers and other aspects.  As the game progresses, the character is awarded more points to spend so the player can develop them.

So the staff of this game decided to have the game jump forward four years.  I argued hard for characters to be awarded a lump amount of points to reflect their development.  I was vetoed because the other staffers were concerned about character inflation.  They pointed out that people could rebuild / restructure their current points.  We finally compromised to allow people to spend a small amount of future points ...

But the discussion stuck with me.  Was it realistic for an individual not to improve over four years - merely shift their focus?  If someone focused on studying archery and fencing, would their academic skills degrade?  To what extent do we get better, and to what extent do we simply move our points around?  Can we really do it all, given enough time, or do we start dropping balls?  Even if we find that balance, does the universe find ways to keep us within our point limits?

For the matter of that ... when do we level up?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Song Styles

Even my comic zombie novel(la) has a themesong!  Albeit with tongue firmly in cheek:

It's Good News Week 

Just about says it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Holiday Reading

Looking to give the gift of reading to a friend, relative or enemy?  (Hey ... who am I to judge?)

Consider my contemporary fantasy novel Flow, either in electronic format or print.  Flow follows two characters:  teenaged Kit, bitter in the wake of the death of her mother and unable to control her budding powers; and Chailyn, a water-witch raised in the underwater Vale and only now sent to the surface for her first mission.  The pair team up to uncover who killed Kit's mother and find more than they bargained for:  predatory fairies, a rival organization to the water-witches known as the Borderwatch, and secrets buried in both their pasts.  They also find Hadrian, a bizarre young man with hyper-accelerated perceptions who invites himself along on the journey.

Looking for something shorter and even seasonal?  Try X-Mas Wishes ... 

Or enter the far-flung reaches of space with Taming The Weald.  (No holiday connection.)

How about a few anthologies with some fantastic authors and one hack?  (That'd be me.)

Unburied Treasures
Light of the Last Day

For fans of Celtic music, Renaissance music, or just good ol' music-music, I offer my CD, Rolling Of The Stone, through my website, and can autograph the inside cover if desired.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday Meanderings

Years ago, I attended the Somerset Folk Harp Festival (one of the first) - not actually a festival so much as a professional conference with educational sessions, vendors, and evening concerts.  It was a wonderful event, full of positive energy and possibilities.

(There is a writing-related thought here.  There's always a writing-related thought.)

One session that sticks out in my mind was taught by Kim Robertson, one of the more famous names in the field.  The topic was performance:  all aspects of playing before an audience that didn't involve the harp, from dealing with nerves, to proper posture, reacting to mistakes, and talking to the audience.  Three things stayed with me.

First, the audience is on your side.  They want to enjoy the music; they want you to succeed.  I like to think this applies to writing, as well:  our expectations may be higher, our reading time at more of a premium, but we still pick up every book hoping to be delighted and entertained.

Second, Kim suggested that rather than starting with a verbal introduction, you go right into playing a tune.  This has become my practice.  I'm very shy, so starting with a comfortable tune is far more relaxing than speaking.  What's the writing analogue of this?  Don't start with a description of a sunset, I suppose.

Third, humor is wonderful, but there's really only one safe topic that you can joke about without the risk of offending someone:  yourself.  Self-deprecating humor puts your listeners at ease.

And isn't that true in fiction as well?  Some of the best, most memorable humor comes from the core of character and humanity - from (imaginary) people being themselves.  Writers can poke fun at their own inventions in a way that lets the reader be free to laugh ... even if that invention is sometimes a veiled version of reality.

Humor based in pop culture fades and becomes dated, then incomprehensible; humor based in politics often requires the reader to share the author's outlook.  But the humor of characters colliding is universal and can enliven any performance.

So authors:  make fun of yourselves, or at least your characters.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Song Styles

The editing of Unnatural Causes goes on hiatus again as I bury my nose back into Scylla and Charybdis, but I still have my fantasy-mystery novel on the brain.  The narrator and main character, Vil, is an enchanter's familiar in a world where familiars are being summoned from another plane.  As an outsider, many human customs seem incomprehensible to her ... including polite falsehoods, political lies, and other varieties of not speaking what one thinks.  And oh, she does.

This cheerful (and very 80s) song was first on my list of themesongs for her:

Orange Express 

"A toda maquina," at least as far as my research indicates, basically means "full speed ahead" or "at full speed," which is very accurate for this character.  (Spanish speakers, feel free to elaborate / correct!)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Meanderings

I identify with certain aspects of my ethnic / cultural heritage more strongly than others.  I've always inwardly described myself as a "European mutt."  From my mother's side, I'm a quarter Welsh / English and a quarter Italian (actually an even split between mainland and Sicilian, if you want to get particular).  I even have an ancestor whose surname was ffollows - yes, with two small letters.  On my father's side, things get a bit more complicated, with Scottish, Scots-Irish, German and Norwegian.

I do connect a lot with my Welsh and Scottish heritage because of my musical background.  I spent years competing at Highland Games through the Scottish Harp Society of America, and then a few more years as a competition judge.  I even competed at a Welsh Eisteddfod.  (Say that three times fast, I challenge you.)

Of the many Celtic lands, I've always had the most affinity with the Welsh music.  I also feel quite comfortable with the language and names ... though the latter might have something to do with the fact that I cut my fantasy-reader teeth on Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles.  It was a weird experience reading a guide to where the Welsh language places syllable emphasis, because it turned out it was exactly how I tended to pronounce if left to my own devices.  I don't feel the same pull from Welsh mythology, though I've read most of the Mabinogion and other sources. 

As for the Scots, I love the "brawn" in Scottish music - a quality that is easier to feel than to describe.  Turns out that I am named after two clans - Clan Lindsay and Clan Duncan - who have been feuding for centuries over ... I don't remember whether it was a goat, a pig or a sheep, but some brand of livestock.

This explains so much.

In the kitchen, I've been known to make jokes about the generous use of alcohol in cooking:  "Of course I'm going to add whisk(e)y to that, I'm Scottish."  I will also make fun of bagpipes at the drop of a hat, but that's another story.

The Italian is the food side of my heritage:  food is love, the desire to feed everyone, and making too much of it all the time.  And I talk with my hands.  I also feel affinity for Italian cooking, even flavor profiles that I didn't encounter as a kid, for instance the use of fennel.  There's something about it that always feels very familiar.

As for Roman mythology ... pfft.  The Greeks got it right.  Why mess with perfection?  ;-)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Song Styles

For my last few long projects, I've associated music / soundtracks with them in one way or another, whether it be assigning each character a song as I wrote up profiles, or - in the case of Scylla and Charybdis - coming up with a concept list during the writing process.  Generally speaking, even those projects where it is a song (or songs) per character, I also have some that encompass wider aspects of the story.

I'm currently building a list for Surgeburnt - building in that my ears are still peeled for songs to reference specific characters or combinations.  This was my first pick for overarching thematics and still tops the list:

Sum Of Our Parts 

I keep trying to pick out specific lyrics to highlight, but the whole thing, from lines to atmosphere, fits perfectly.

Check out the alternate version, as well.  Mary Lambert is amazing, and I am mostly irritated that she doesn't have a second CD out yet (come ooooon already).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

So Much For Resolution

A few weeks ago, in my World Fantasy Convention recap posts, I ever so confidently declared that the next novel I would be tackling was my Helen of Troy project.

Oh, the best laid plans.

To explain, my Helen of Troy project is somewhere between a retelling and an inspired-by.  I want to write in a secondary world so I have the freedom to expand the decisions I make to logical consequences that might not precisely fit the original tale.  In almost every Helen of Troy version I've seen or read, authors minimize or eliminate the role of the gods ... which, while it may be more historical, seems wholly outside of the spirit of the myth.  The trick, of course, is balancing the activity and intervention of the gods with human agency.

There are a lot of myths intertwined with the Helen of Troy story, heroes who are the stars of their own plot who make cameos in the battling armies.  I want to take aspects and explore them in a different ways, whether it be a literal interpretation - the idea that centaurs were amazing horsemen seen by a culture not familiar with horseback riding - metaphorical, syncretic with other mythologies, or taking it into traditional fantasy territory.

But then ... I started to think about other projects, and I began to second-guess myself.

The first thing that came to mind was also a rewrite, but from my own stash - an old fandom storyline with sprawling characters and years of development.  Now, for those familiar with fandom, you know it is based in another author's world, so to liberate it more than just filing the numbers off - which feels dishonest to me - I would have to come up with a framework and make changes that, in turn, would alter the context of the story.  I've spitballed some of this, and to be honest, I'm excited about the possibilities ... and I know the characters like the back of my hand.

Now, these two projects share a lot in common - a huge cast, a partially predetermined plot, and reworking material to put it in a new context.  Yet if I'm honest, I also find a lot of appeal in two smaller concepts, both of which also use familiar characters, but drop them headlong into a mystery story.  I've been concerned that the two female protagonists of the first of these are too similar to Vil and Iluenn from Unnatural Causes, but I think the resemblance is largely superficial.

Why am I thinking about this now, when I'm only a short way into Surgeburnt?  The latter three concepts here don't require a lot of pre-work, but the HoT project (isn't it ironic that "Helen of Troy" abbreviates to hot?) involves a lot of reading, from classical works to mythological treatments and scholarly randomnia.  If I want to go this route, I should start reading soon.

So ... perhaps I let it set until the end of the year and see how I feel then.  Goodness knows, life has been moving at a crazy pace, and what I want then may be completely different all together.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Meanderings

Weekly post on a Monday?  I can only cross my fingers and hope that doesn't mysteriously make my Mondays implode into a knot of chaos.

I mentioned in my recap of the World Fantasy Convention that I wrote several poems while there.  Something about having my focus elsewhere freed up my subconscious to float into verse.

For me as a writer, 95-99% of the time, poetry has to be written to form - as opposed to free verse.  I am fascinated by the repeated line forms:  villanelle, pantoum, rondeau.  When I don't use a historical form, I typically invent a structure for myself.

Why do I enjoy writing form poetry?  For me, it's like a puzzle:  getting the language to speak within the restrictions and winding labyrinth of the form.  I often find that my best stories come from sending two unrelated ideas on collision course; in the case of poetry, the form is that second idea.  Of course, as a lover of music and lyrics, it's probably no coincidence that form poetry shares much resemblance with lyrics; in some cases, they're interchangeable.

I find free verse difficult because for me, the line(s) between free verse, prose poems and lyrical short fiction are blurry.  I'm not sure how to keep one from oozing into the next.  I would welcome suggestions from other writers who might be reading this!

That aside, poetry is something I can't force.  I can usually sit down and write on a story or novel unless totally exhausted, but for a poem, I need all the ingredients in place, some time to incubate beforehand, and the right mood.  Maybe it's just a matter of practice:  if I wrote more of it, I might hone the discipline to write poetry on command.

I'm also disappointed when markets state a distaste for form poetry.  True, the bad stuff is wince-worthy, but so is bad free verse (which can sound like normal sentences cut up at random) or bad flash fiction - or bad anything, for the matter of that.  The good stuff is a joy.  Is my poetry at that level yet?  I don't know, but I love playing with the pieces.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Song Styles

As mentioned before, I create themed playlists for my car, and one of my favorite concepts is to do word association - chaining one song title into another by connections of word, concept, phrasing or pun.  Here's my most recent creation:

Long Shot - Kelly Clarkson
Taking Chances - Celine Dion
No Second Chance - Blackmore's Night
Second Nature - Clannad
Natural Love - Anne Murray
Human Nature - Madonna
What Would Dolly Do - Kristin Chenoweth (to explain this next one, it should be explained that the chorus starts with "So take your truck and shove it ...")
18 Wheeler - P!nk
Big Yellow Taxi - Amy Grant
Taxi Taxi - Cher
Radio - Beyonce
Me and My Microphone - September
Me Against The Music - Glee cast version
Music - Joss Stone
Song of Sorrow - Elle King
Unfinished Songs - Celine Dion
Loose Ends - Imogen Heap
Till the World Ends - Britney Spears
Why Wait - Shakira
Time Waits - Gloria Estefan
Borrowed Time - Madonna
Livin' in These Troubled Times - Crystal Gayle
A Little Good News - Anne Murray
It's Good News Week - Hedgehoppers Anonymous
Here Comes The Weekend - P!nk
Here Comes the Rapture - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Come into My Head - Kimbra
Outta My Head - Leona Lewis
Headturner - Joss Stone
Turn The Beat Around - Gloria Estefan
Turn It Into Love - Kylie Minogue
Change - Kristin Chenoweth
Everything Changes - Sara Bareilles
You My Everything - Ellie Goulding
Everything Falls Into Place - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Learning to Fall - Martina McBride
Lessons Learned - Kristin Chenoweth
Big Mistake - Natalie Imbruglia
Your Biggest Mistake - Ellie Goulding
Bigger Love - Colbie Caillat
Everyday - Anne Murray (connection to prior - the concept is "love is stronger every day")
Lazy Days - Enya

Friday, November 18, 2016

Radio Silence?

I haven't blogged in a while for one reason or another.  First, my weekly post would have fallen right after the election, and I was nervous about either avoiding the subject or tackling it.  Then, a grueling sequence of events at work that dumped me straight into a nasty stomach flu.  Spent a couple days sleeping and then a few more recovering.

So here I am again, gearing up to get back to my regularly scheduled ranting.  I am considering moving my weekly post day again.  However, considering what happened the last few times I did, I'm afraid to.  To be specific:

The blog post used to be Thursday Thoughts.  Then, Thursday turned into the day I would complete the bulk of my office work.  So I turned my post into Tuesday Thoughts.  Then, I got hired at Receptions, where Tuesday was prep day.  So I moved my post to Wednesday Wanderings.

... now all of a sudden, Wednesday is my prime work day at my other job ...

If I make it Monday Meanderings, will life somehow conspire to steal my Mondays, too?

Friday, November 04, 2016

World Fantasy Convention 2016: In Sequel

As a result of the World Fantasy Convention, I made some realizations and resolutions:

There's always a next level of accomplishment.  Newbie writers are in awe of the panelists.  Panelists who are currently releasing book five in a series are in awe of those who have multiple series.  Those writers are in awe of Mercedes Lackey. ... and Jane Yolen has topped Isaac Asimov's record, so I am not sure that anyone is insane enough to want to be Jane Yolen, but everyone respects her.

You could take this as a depressing thing, I suppose:  it's impossible to ever feel you've "made it."  Or you could take it as a positive thing:  there are always new challenges ... and more importantly, no matter how high the peaks above you, there's someone looking up at *you* in awe of how far you've come.

2.  Personal visibility and "brand" - even if it is simply the personality of the writer - help attract attention to books.  I had resolved this in the past and fell away from it, but this time I mean it:  the next time I decide to attend a conference, I will be applying to be on a panel.

And what is my brand?  I've been chewing on it.  I write such a broad range it definitely doesn't tie to a specific subgenre.  I think a mythic element is the common thread, even if the story itself doesn't reference gods and higher powers or retell mythology.  Scylla and Charybdis pretty much illustrates what I'm talking about:  there are passing references to myth throughout (... besides the title, of course).

And purple.  Because really, everything is purple. 

Forcing myself into parties is never going to work.  I really do just hover around like a loon and steal food, because food makes me feel better.  This actually ties into the previous point - attending panels, meeting people that way, is also an opportunity to make acquaintances and form ties that I would be too shy to make with cold contact.

On the other hand, I would be ... well, I don't want to oversell myself and say that I would be comfortable being a panelist, of course I'd be shaky-nervous, but that particular kind of public speaking is something I'm very comfortable with.  It comes of many years of harp performance and giving talks on the history of the music and instrument, as well as teaching ... and, believe it or not, working a carving station in catering work.  You have to have many quick, friendly conversations with people in passing while performing a physical task - which was the hard part for me, given as talking tends to consume the rest of my brain space.

In light of that, sitting on a panel doesn't seem overly intimidating, as long as I know that I have something worthwhile to say.

I also made a decision about my next novel project:  I am going to take the plunge and work on my Helen of Troy tale.  It lies somewhere between an inspired-by and a retelling (I will explain in more detail in another post).  It does hit all three major reasons to do a retelling, according to the panelists I heard last weekend:  there are connected stories I love; others that really annoy me and beg for rethinking; and so many unanswered questions and apparent contradictions.

I am only about 11,000 words into Surgeburnt and this concept requires a lot of research and some refreshing of my mythological memory, so I am guessing it will be a year at minimum before I start writing ... but the long-term goal, the desire to get it right, energizes me.  I'm looking forward to it.


Thursday, November 03, 2016

World Fantasy Convention 2016: Meat and Bones

So everyone has been waiting with breathless anticipation, on pins and needles, after the cliffhanger of my last post ...

All right, not exactly.

Conclusion:  this was a high quality, worthwhile World Fantasy Convention, and I had a great time.  There were some minor planning problems that always seem to be common at conventions - one mic or no mic at all, lack of name signs - but nothing that got in the way of the conference.  (There was that particularly memorable incident in the final Thursday night panel where the *lights kept going off,* though.  Turned out that a venue staff member didn't realize that when he turned them off in the other room, they went out in both.  So a panelist would get up, turn on the lights ... they'd still on for a moment ... go back off ...)

I mentioned in my previous post that I was a little unenthused about the selection of panel topics, but like many WFCs previously, the panels I was just lukewarm about turned out to be great fun.  For instance, the Tall Tale panel Thursday evening was a blast - the panelists were hilarious, informed and made those of us who never really cared or thought about the tall tale as a storytelling form (hi!) interested in the topic.  A few panels wandered off what I interpreted as the topic, but I can't say if that was me or them getting it wrong.  There was only one panel that both diverged and became unpleasantly argumentative.

Thursday featured back-to-back panels about costumes / clothing and masks, which not only hit upon the period significance and use of both, but discussed the psychological impact.  "Flights of Fancy" was the central theme of the convention - though as with every WFC I've attended, it received lip service more than any true focus - and I attended two panels on aspects of flight.  They ended up being somewhat repetitive due to wandering topic, but I still gained useful insight from both.  Besides the philosophical and primal aspects of flight, the panelists discussed its use in warfare ... and, of course, the physiology necessary to allow a creature to fly, which gave me a story idea I'm dying to write.

L.E. Modesitt was everywhere, in the best sense.  He's an excellent panelist and not afraid to disagree - politely - with his fellow panelists.  He self-describes as borderline aspergers, and as someone who often feels the same way ... it's encouraging to hear him speak.

Of course, I adored the panel on retellings, always a favorite topic of mine and populated by eloquent, witty speakers.  Another highlight was the panel on Strange Drugs, which was partly notable due to the fact it was the last panel on Saturday, and, well ... everyone was tired and punchy ... I've never heard so many snarky comebacks from an audience before.  All in good fun, and suitable because it really is a heavy topic if taken in an entirely serious vein.

My final panel was a perfect ending for the convention:  "Is God Dead?  Atheist Fantasy."  Arguably, this one veered off-topic, too - one panelist contended that the term religion can be applied more broadly to community systems of belief, even without a deity component, and the dialogue ended up centering around the use, justification and purpose - narratively speaking - of gods, religion, etc.

Sidebar:  one of the pitfalls of writing by hand (besides my terrible handwriting and the occasional leftie smear) is my notebook is full of terrible little doodles.  One in particular is a vague little sketch of water with critters labeled, "narwhals!"  The panel topic had nothing to do with this.  I also ended up writing multiple poems.  This in no way should indicate that I wasn't absorbed in the topic and paying attention:  I seem to have trouble with *just* listening to people speak, so the jots filled in the empty spaces in my brain.

Going in without expectations or grandiose plans improved my experience, and I'm glad it happened that way.  Overall, a satisfying convention.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

World Fantasy Convention 2016: Prelude

I've attended World Fantasy Conventions in the past and found them entertaining, thought-provoking, and energizing.  (My 2008/Calgary bag - with a dragon's head wearing the signature Sherlock Holmes hat - is my go-to carrying bag.)  I stopped attending for two unrelated reasons.  First, I started to learn that one of the most important aspects of the convention was the social, hobnobbing, networking ... and though I sent myself to parties, what I ended up doing was lurking awkwardly and trying not to look like I was eavesdropping rudely while attempting to eavesdrop invitingly.  Second, finances and life changes:  I had saved up for the WFC in the UK and some sightseeing to follow, but that money ended up going to culinary school.

(For the curious, I wanted to visit Wales, as well as Shrewsbury, the English town where Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael novels were set.)

I perked up when I saw the WFC was returning to Columbus, which is an hour and a half drive from where I live up the windiest stretch of road in the Midwest.  (Chicago has nothing on I-71 between Cincinnati and Columbus.)  What decided me to plunk my money down on membership and commit was my sale of Scylla and Charybdis.  I wanted to attend in context of my new milestone.

(I had initially intended to apply for the BroadUniverse Rapidfire Reading, but my culinary life almost literally exploded - actually, there were a couple interesting equipment malfunctions, but that's another story - during this period of time, and I had no time to think straight, much less prep a reading.  In the end, probably for the best:  I would have been immensely stressed about it, and probably not had as much focus to enjoy the conference.)

(Yes, I do have a parentheses problem.  Curiously, I don't write with them in stories, only non-fiction and roleplaying scenes.)

Between that time and attending the conference, a sour note:  controversy over the original programming draft, which was narrow in focus and nigh oblivious to recent history/writers, among other issues.  I was only peripherally aware of the discussions and revisions.  What I did notice when I received the program was the number of panels devoted to a single individual or to horror topics.  Nothing wrong with the latter, but not an area of interest.  I was a little worried when I found myself planning to skip certain time blocks - something that had happened only once or twice at prior WFCs.

As it turned out, those empty blocks of time turned out to be a boon.  I was able to enjoy the art gallery and dealers' room - including a good conversation at the Nightshade Books table about their anthologies - and also simply take some time to stop and breathe.  I'm sure at a conference of writers I was hardly unique in being an introvert, but the energy of people can be overwhelming.

That chaotic tumble of my life before the WFC meant that I couldn't do much in the way of preparing or planning, and that also worked in my favor.  I was much more relaxed and ready to go with the flow than I usually am.  Did I hear, encounter, absorb or set up something I might not have?  Only time will tell.

One thing I hadn't intended:  I think I made myself stand out visually, which hopefully didn't work against me.  Why?  I was that girl with the purple hair.  I was not the only person with dyed hair - oh, writers, I love you! - but I was definitely in a small minority, and wearing that what I'd loosely describe as bohemian-hippy-harp-performer clothes.  (I was also in sandals the whole time, but that was more an expression of the fact that after wearing my work shoes so much, I have no interest in normal shoes until it gets toes-freeze-off cold.)

And what about the conference itself?  Next post ...

Monday, October 31, 2016

My Radio Silence

I haven't posted on my blog in a while for two reasons.  The first is the typically dull too busy, brain-fried, etc.  The second is that I spent the second half of last week at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, OH, which has set my brain to bubbling.  I'd like to share my overall impressions of the convention, especially highlights; I'm also intending to post separately about some of my personal conclusions.  Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I know people who give certain important possessions proper names:  harps, cars, computers, maybe if you had a truly amazing toothbrush.  It's always seemed like an odd habit to me, though at the same time, I've felt a little wistful about the fact I don't indulge in it.  It seems like the kind of thing a whimsical, creative person ought to do.

I think there are two reasons I don't feel the urge to name my harp, etc.  The first is something I discussed in a previous blog post:  people name/label things (... and other people ...) to allow themselves to think about, remember, manipulate concepts, and so forth.  For those of us who are very kinesthetic, such labels are replaced by a "feel" for the object or person.

The second is ... for me, I think it comes close to anthropomorphizing the object.  My sense of reality is a little wacky as it is, and I already talk to inanimate objects.  My subconscious doesn't need any encouragement!  This probably sounds like a frivolous reason, and it is ... but I do feel odd "acknowledging" an inanimate object by name.

The one notable exception in my life is more descriptor than name.  My laptop clings stubbornly to life, after several part exchanges (upgraded memory, new battery, new power cord, new hard drive, random failures (I've never determined what that musical shrieking noise was, but it stopped years ago), and other odd quirks.  It keeps dying, at which point I freak out, and then claws back to life.

I refer to it as "the Frankenlaptop."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

Most versions of my bio mention both the fact that I'm a professional harper, and (to tie it to my writing) that I feel music and language are inextricably linked.  I still have a clear memory of the first time this truly struck me.  I was at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in a class taught by Beth Kolle.  She pointed out a particular motif in the Scandinavian music we were learning. She told us the pattern of notes was common because it echoed an end-of-sentence inflection in the language.  Comparable motifs also appear in music written by English speakers, across different origins.

When arranging music for the harp, even purely instrumental, conventions of speech and singing apply.  The hands come off the harp to punctuate - analogy intended - phrases.  When the music has lyrics, these pauses often come at a comma, conjunction or the end of a sentence.  Music breathes, regardless of whether a voice is involved.

Outside of the pattern of sentences, words themselves have sound and melody.  J.R.R. Tolkien said that the phrase "cellar door" was one of the most beautiful in the English language, quite divorced from its meaning.  When choosing the right word to use in a sentence, often the choice between synonyms is a question of flow, reflecting intent in rhythm.  Short, sharp staccato words convey a different impression than long, fluid syllables.

To an extent, lyrics are the ultimate meeting of music and language, and they work best when it is a wholehearted marriage.  One of my favorite lyric lines is from the old classic Big Yellow Taxi - "Paved paradise and put up a parking lot."  The alliterative plosives punch, brought out further by the quick patter of the notes.

Lyrics flow most naturally when they match the pattern of language, as discussed above.  In some cases, deliberately setting up lyrics to contradict the pattern of language can create an interesting effect, sharpening the listener's focus.

(Or it's just confusing - it took me the longest time to parse the last verse of Carrie Underwood's Last Name because of the musical distance between "This ring that just appeared" and "out of nowhere" - I kept threading it together wrong in my head.)

Where lyrics fall down, at least for me, is when the music is slave to the lyrics, melody and rhythm warped to fit in the appropriate words.  A lesser offense (to me!), but still unsatisfying, is where the musical pattern results in odd, awkward or vapid word choices.

But when the two meet, ah, there's romance in the air.  The music reinforces the words; the words fill the music with second life.  I don't - I can't - compose, but I appreciate experiencing the result.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

So I just turned the manuscript for Scylla and Charybdis back over to my editor (I still get a giddy little thrill saying that, call me a dork) for her review.  I've been swimming in tweaks, changes, additions, deletions and hoping that I've managed to hit all the notes for a little over a month, and now it's time to stop and breathe.

What will I do until the next round?  On my next book to submit / query, Unnatural Causes, I am partway through transcribing my paper edit, but honestly, I've been editing so much that I need to step away for a bit.  So ... time to give the new novel, Surgeburnt, some love.  It's a huge change from Scylla and Charybdis:  a chaotic, magic-infused Earth as told through the first-person eyes of a snarky and pessimistic narrator.  And the trick with Surgeburnt is that I'm actually telling two stories at once:  the "now-time" sequence of events, and a dramatized backstory of how it got to that point.  It's a fine balance, filling in enough detail to make sense of the now-story, while still leaving questions to play out in the then-story:  how did this happen?  Why?  What's missing?

So my current plan is to focus on Surgeburnt through the end of the month (gee, maybe I'll come up with a better title in that time, too).  After that, I'd like to break up my attention and do some shorter pieces - poetry and flash.  The ideal would be one a day, but with my work schedule, that may not be feasible.  Anyone have an idea for prompts or a scheme I might follow?  It would be fun to have an ongoing flow of inspiration.

Then ... back to Unnatural Causes.  I'm planning on another pass before I look for beta readers; guessing that won't be until early 2017.  And, of course, when I hear on Scylla and Charybdis, that goes to the top of the pile.

That's the plan, anyhow.  And we all know what happens to plans ...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Goodreads Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless by Gail Carriger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a Victorian England which hosts a not-so-secret society of vampires and werewolves, Alexia has the opposite problem: as the supernatural is an excess of soul, she is the opposite, preternatural, able to cancel out their abilities at a touch. This ability, and her nosy nature, sets her on collision course with a chilling plot.

I had mixed feelings about this book. There were places where it absolutely delighted me and nearly made me laugh out loud (which is a very high bar, for me); there were other places where I rolled my eyes; and a few that just didn't connect with me one way or the other. Of course, parody and humor are delicate things, and the balance of elements just didn't sit right with me - it was hard for me to tell in places whether something was intended to be hyperbole-for-humor or whether it was intended to be serious. Other readers' mileage may certainly vary!

Trying to discern this tone made my entrance into the book a bit tricky. I had trouble identifying with Alexia because she came off too casual about a dramatic turn of events. Once I got used to the tone, I began to enjoy it (though it does make use of some mid-scene POV shift, which has never been my favorite thing). The humor throughout is an absolute highlight, whether from the events themselves or the way Alexia thinks about them. Her family is a perfectly delightful caricature and yet entirely appropriate.

I never quite felt like Alexia led or motivated the events of the plot, however, so much as her general poking-about attracted the attention of antagonists already in motion. She acts and she gets results, but those results seem to be unintended (at least by her) and connected to larger events already in motion. She disturbs the "villains" of the story almost by accident.

The romance subplot is one of the primary places where the tone tripped me up. There is a sequence where my suspension of disbelief went wandering off into fields of heather because of the behavior of the male lead in very dire circumstances. Even if influenced by a werewolf nature - really?!

That said, I was very ready to write that romance off as a traditional love-hate cliche, all too well-worn, but the details of it are actually delightful and do a great job of incorporating supernatural culture, too.

Overall, I enjoyed this book enough that I would read the second, but would eschew a third if fell pray to some of the same pitfalls.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

Except for the orphaned farmboy of fantasy cliche, every character has family.  (Even the orphaned farmboy has family, they're just deceased / missing / secretly evil.  Sometimes all of the above, improbably.)  The rootless character is a popular one in fantasy - even those who have living family and relatives may not speak or see them in the story's timeline.  Even in these cases, though, the family - real or adopted - leaves a mark on the character, influencing their background and personality.

 Other tales either involve the family on the fringes of the plot or sometimes, right in the center of it.  To be honest, this is usually the kind of book I prefer.  I'm fascinated by the interplay of family ties, loyalty to blood relatives versus loyalty to found family, the lengths people will go to protect a family member ... and the clashes of personality.  After all, as the saying goes, you can't pick your family, so what do you do when a family member is someone you wouldn't choose to have tea with?

Or worse, a criminal, murderer, antagonist?  This in particular is something I've always been intrigued with, from the very start:  my first two novel attempts featured characters who were closely related to the main villain.  I'm still playing with the idea.  To me, it's less interesting as a shock reveal than as something learned earlier in the plot, a dilemma to wrestle with.

As an only child, I have always been an outside observer to the interplay of siblings.  My cousins all live(d) a considerable distance away, so I wasn't regularly exposed to that relationship, either.  Perhaps that's the reason I so enjoy writing about siblings ... and no one's told me that I've gotten them terribly wrong (yet), so I must have absorbed something from watching everyone else's.

Of course, having been homeschooled gave me a slightly different perspective on siblings, too.  I think there's a tendency when you're young to make friends with your closest age peer and then write off their brothers and sisters as annoying pests.  I remember very distinctly suddenly learning that my friend's siblings were actually a lot of fun, and that stayed with me.

What about characters who are already married or who have children?  Seems the married characters typically only show up when it's unhappy or troubled, or in sequels where the romance was played out in a previous volume.  And unless the child is a catalyst to the plot - abducted, parent is trying to make a better life for them and that's the primary storyline, etc - you don't often see them, either.  At least, not in the books I've read, though of course, I can think of exceptions.

... and there should be more of them.  Obviously, the absence of such characters is partly due to the fact that it's hard to "work around" them in a plot:  the related character is tied down, constricted, unlikely to be able to make too many moves without considering their spouse / child.  But isn't that part of the fun for the writer?  The puzzle of making that conflict an integral part of the story?

It obviously works better for some kinds of books - tales that are more intimate, character focused, or political, rather than sweeping quest sagas or war novels.  But in the end, we all have family.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

It's the little things.

I've had a lot of entertaining conversations at work lately about products we use.  We recently switched to new disposable gloves.  The new ones are disturbingly like medical gloves, actually:  it's exactly that color.  But they are so much easier to get on (especially if your fingers are even the slightest bit wet) and sturdier.  My old boss loves 'em, new boss immediately complimented them ...

... and then a captain from another location came in and recoiled.  "These are terrible!  Where are the old gloves?"

This isn't the only bone of contention.  I can't stand the thin towels used at other locations; they hardly soak up any moisture, but they also don't leave any fabric threads.  My new boss doesn't understand I love the wider roll of plastic wrap; it takes up too much space on the counter, but it makes it so much easier to securely wrap certain things.  (Me and plastic wrap have always had a contentious relationship.  I'm sure people who don't know me watch me struggling and wonder, wait, how long has this chick been in food service? but it's just a quirk of mine.)

Tiny acts of compromise every day, hardly noticed, hardly commented upon.  Minute quirks and preferences that add up to a person.  We can't agree on the little things, so why do we expect to agree on the big things?

In editing Scylla and Charybdis, I've been thinking a lot about the little things.  The novel centers on a drastic change, from one isolated space station to an entire, boisterous universe, and the big things are important, consuming ... but it's the little things that we focus on, that bring the changes into sharp focus.  So now I'm trying to mine those and reset them in a science fiction context, see the most mundane aspects of the unfamiliar.

Sometimes, it's no more grand than plastic gloves.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

So I've started the editing process for Scylla and Charybdis - which has involved, if you've been watching my Facebook feed, making lists upon lists to keep on hand for reference - and I made a realization.

I like to write about the apocalypse.

Or not the apocalypse itself, actually:  what I like to write about is the era when the initial upheaval has passed, humanity has found ways to adapt and thrive, and nothing will ever be the same again - but people still look back and romanticize the past.

That's the backstory of Scylla and Charybdis.  It's also, in a very different way, the backstory of Surgeburnt.  In both cases, the destructive event is (comparatively) recent history:  110 years in Scylla and Charybdis and 90 in Surgeburnt.  In the former case, I very specifically wanted the last people who would clearly remember what had happened to be dead and gone.

But this is also Undertaking Chances, my zombie novella, though the apocalypse is much closer - a matter of months - and the recovery incomplete.

I think that's the question that intrigues me:  how do you get back to normal?  What does normal look like when the rules have changed?  I think I'm less interested in the survival and adaptation of individuals in the moment than the long-term systems that develop.  (Which is maybe why I'm still stubbornly watching The Walking Dead - they've reached that phase where they recognize the need to put down roots and build.  Far more interesting than the wandering-about.)

What happens to the old infrastructure?  How does it get repurposed?  What words and concepts - in language, in custom, in technology and the names of items - remain that once made perfect sense, but now are divorced from context?  (I'm thinking of things like the phrase "roll up the windows" in a car, when we haven't had hand-cranks in years, or the fact that the Save icon in most computer programs looks like a tiny floppy disk.)

When everything changes, do we respond by trying to recapture the old, or by creating something new?  Do we change our minds down the line?  How reliable is nostalgia?

I grew up with such timing that I can clearly remember both the days before constant connectivity and the explosion of it, how excited we were.  I remember the first time I saw a billboard with a web address on it and how much my family laughed.  I remember the first camera phones and how everyone's reaction was, "What use is that?  It won't catch on."

I remember saying, "Eh, by the time I need to text, there will be keyboards and I won't need to learn how to do it with the number pad." ... and I was right.

So because of this, I think, one of the elements I'm always interested in is taking that all-encompassing infrastructure and shattering it.  How does society deal with broken links in that chain?  Is constant connectivity too addictive to give up?

... all right, the fact that I'm a grumpy hermit might have something to do with my take on this aspect, too.

So:  bring on the apocalypse!  I have work to do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I've spent a lot of my life involved in roleplaying games, whether it be via email or on a MUSH (Multi-User Shared Hallucination - basically a text-only world), freeform and story-based, or - gasp! - with statistics, mechanics and virtual dice.  I've even run a few games in the real world, where my players quickly figured out I had no poker face, would make predictions about where things were going, and then watch me very closely to see if they were right.  Grrr.

One of the concepts that is central to these games, particularly the MUSH sort, is the distinction between IC - In Character - and OOC - Out Of Character.  What this really translates to, in general, is imaginary-world / real-world.  For instance, if you were in the middle of writing a scene with someone and needed to run out, you might say:  "OOC:  be right back, grabbing lunch."  It's a simple system to carry on a mundane conversation and also to coordinate the character (IC!) action.

IC and OOC are also used less commonly to refer to specific character actions and whether they fit the character.  For instance, you might say, "It would be IC for my character to be very upset."  For whatever reason, you rarely see OOC used in this fashion.  If there is a mismatch, players are more likely to say, "That behavior isn't IC."

So what does this have to do with writing?  I find this sometimes intrudes into how I regard the various aspects of a tale.  The IC is everything that exists in the world of the story, even aspects that don't appear on the page.  The OOC is everything in the writing that doesn't necessarily have a reality the characters would recognize:  structural choices such as chapters and scene breaks, thematic elements, etc.  Narrative style straddles the line:  in most first person, it is an IC aspect - it's how the character talks or writes, after all - and in many third person stories, the choice of words and tone is influenced by the personality, knowledge and outlook of the character.

Old habits are hard to break, too:  I am prone to thinking of mismatched character behavior as, sure enough, "not IC."  It's a quick, easy shorthand that works in my brain and helps guide me away from choices that might serve the plot, but not the people.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Fun with Song Titles

I've mentioned before that I do themed music CDs for my elderly car, so I can listen to my collection of this, that and the other.  One of the themes I like to do is word association, where the titles (and sometimes, internal versions) suggest a chain from one to the next.  Here's my most recent sequence:

Gasoline - Britney Spears
Shut Up And Drive - Rihanna
I Don't Care (Lonesome Road) - Alana Davis
Lonely Girl - Oceanlab
Not Alone - Sara Bareilles
Party In My Head - September
Get the Party Started - P!nk
Begin Again - Purity Ring
Never Ending Circles - Chvrches
Circle - Sarah MacLachlan
Plain Gold Ring - Kimbra
The Golden Ball - Clannad
Gold Digger - Glee Cast version
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich - Lady Gaga
Dirrty - Christina Aguilera
Earth - Imogen Heap
Diamonds and Rust - Blackmore's Night
Stone Hearts and Hand Grenades - Leona Lewis
Melt My Heart To Stone - Adele
Blaze - Colbie Caillat
Fire Under My Feet - Leona Lewis
Hands Up - September
Criminal - Britney Spears
Good Intent - Kimbra
I Told You I Was Mean - Elle King
Hurt So Good - Carly Rae Jepsen
Just Like A Pill - P!nk
Medicine - Gloria Estefan
Wait For The Healing - Amy Grant
Wait A Minute - Pussycat Dolls
Split Second - Lisa Loeb
Half Life - Imogen Heap
Sum of Our Parts - Mary Lambert
Come Together - Echosmith
Posse - Kimbra
Paper Gangsta - Lady Gaga
Hotel Paper - Michelle Branch
Hotel Nacional - Gloria Estefan
Live It Up - Colbie Caillat
(This last one is really the only one where the connection is tenuous, I think:  both are songs about throwing caution to the winds and doing what feels good ...)

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

A short while ago, I mentioned I had begun writing on my new novel project (tentatively entitled Surgeburnt), and a crucial part of that process was choosing a font.

I was speaking somewhat tongue in cheek, but not entirely.  Whenever I start a new piece, I do spend a few minutes fiddling around with fonts until I hit one that seems right.  Some fonts just seem more sterile, more elegant, more humorous.  Now, I'm staying mostly with the mainstream fonts - Times New Roman, Arial, Trebuchet MS, Book Antiqua - though for a while, when I was going through a phase of letter stories, I favored Monotype Corsiva, which looks like handwriting while still being easy to read.

I don't have any kind of codified system - this type of story should be written with this font, contemporary should always be this, etc.  It's not an organized process, but rather a feeling, and here comes the real reason for it ... for me, the visual change on the screen serves as a subliminal key for the mindset of that story.  I'm a kinesthetic person, so it's all about feel.  A page in one font looks subtly different than the same page in another.  Rather than being a conscious flag, it becomes a subconscious reminder of where I am, fictionally.

(Of course, it should be noted that translating to standard manuscript format is part of my pre-submissions process, but I cannot write in it.  I loathe Courier.  It just looks thin.  I can't concentrate on text written in Courier.  I can't written in double spaced lines, either:  there's too much space in the middle of thoughts!)

As far as Surgeburnt is concerned, I had to choose this font.  Come on, it's called Centaur.  Centaur.  It would be a crime not to.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

GoodReads Review: Alternate Outlaws ed. Mike Resnick

Alternate OutlawsAlternate Outlaws by Mike Resnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid collection of alternate history stories, all based on one of (sometimes both of!) two premises: a famous historical figure was in fact an outlaw; an infamous criminal was in fact the hero of the story. It's a fun idea, but many of the stories, while entertaining and satisfying as fictional yarns, don't fully live up to the promise of the premise. Others feel like slice of life, dependent entirely on the identity of the fictional outlaw to give the story interest.

I particularly enjoyed the stories based on the wackiest outlaws: Sir Francis of Assisi, Helen Keller, Santa Claus. Some of the stories were chilling: Michelle Sagara's "What She Won't Remember" (Agatha Christie), Janni Lee Simner's "Learning Magic" (Harry Houdini) and the closing story, Barbara Delaplace's "Painted Bridges (Adolph Hitler). Also of a note was a particularly lush tale featuring Queen Elizabeth, Tappan King's "The Crimson Rose." And finally, "Good Girl, Bad Dog" by Martha Soukup shows Lassie in a light you've never seen before.

This is a minor point, but in many cases, I wish the stories hadn't come with author introductions that revealed the name of the historical persona beforehand. It would have been more fun to piece together while reading.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

This time last week, I declared my intention to goof off in regards to what I chose to write, which mysteriously, was one of my most popular blog posts ever.  Apparently, that means y'all need to take things more seriously.

In the spirit of that, here are a few of the novel projects I've repeatedly put off or shuffled to the bottom of the list due to marketing and sales concerns:

A Flow Sequel:  I do have a title for this project, but I'm not mentioning it here since it's an implicit spoiler for the events of Flow (which in itself causes much debate I shouldn't even be having in the pre-writing phases, but having a title before I start is a key part of my process).  The story would be set a few years later, with Kit at the messy end of her first serious relationship.  He's part of the hidden world in that setting, so there's the additional complication that he feels responsible for her protection.  (Too much, as far as Kit is concerned, which part of the reason for their evolving breakup.)  Chailyn would be back, of course, and Hadrian ... and one of the exciting parts of this project for me is actually getting into his point of view.  Since he has hypersensitive perceptions, day-to-day living can be an overload, and I'm excited by the challenge of trying to convey that without leaving the reader completely lost.
But ... the sales for Flow don't really justify a sequel.  I can certainly make it a standalone volume, but why this book over all the others?  (In addition, years later, I'd love to get back into Flow and change things, but that's another story ...)

The Great Starshine Rewrite:  years and years (... and years ...) ago, I was involved in a fandom group.  I had a blast, mainly because I was too young to know better, but I created a sprawling cast of characters and an ongoing conspiracy that I always thought would be fun to revive.  The act of translating everything to an original world promises to create some intriguing results, and these are imaginary people I know like the back of my hand.
But ... as mentioned, the cast is sprawling.  There are a massive number of characters and subplots.  Not too many for me, because I'm nuts and I know the map and territory.  For readers ...?  That, I don't know.

A World of My Own:  my long roleplaying history also includes some original contemporary settings, where I was either part of the game founders or was invited to join staff later on ... which means that I ended up designing various elements for the setting.  I've considered combining these elements (or at least, a lot of them, some tweaked) into a single, cohesive setting so I can write short fiction in it.  It would also give me a chance to revive well-loved characters or ones I didn't give enough life to.
But ... there's a sliding scale between urban fantasy and superhero.  I have to find a consistent tone and potentially decide how comfortable I am writing superhero fiction - which seems to be a growing genre on the black and white page, but it certainly isn't an area I have a lot of knowledge about.  Of course, I can fix that ...
But part two ... it's not like I lack for short stories or ideas as it is!

Helen of Troy:  I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology.  I grew up with them:  one of my earliest story attempts was a retelling of the Pandora myth with Barbie as the main character.  The Pandora story is one that never set right with me, and I've tackled it in short fiction.  The Helen of Troy saga occupies a similar point of disquiet:  all this strife and death over a love affair?  
Scholars have numerous theories about the larger implications of Paris and Helen running away together, from the economic - the real reason for the war was trade; to the political - Helen was queen in her own right, so without her, her erstwhile husband no claim to the kingdom; to the fantastical - some sources connect Helen to a vegetation goddess and the health of her land to her presence.  Yet most fictional portrayals of this storyline attempt to make it historical, sensible in our real world.  To me, that's the least interesting path to take.  The Greek gods are infamous for their meddling, and they do it constantly in this saga.  To tell that story, full-fleshed, without taking agency away from the mortals ... that's where my interest lies.
I should note that I want to create an inspired-by tale rather than a retelling - different names, identities, other elements changed to suit ... well ... me.  That allows me more freedom, including the ability to be less literal and interpret threads in non-traditional ways.
But ... it's this last point that's the tricky one.  If I'm not openly identifying the storyline as Helen of Troy, does it just come off as mimicry rather than homage?

There may be more, but these are the four that I keep tossing off the island.  Maybe some day!  ... maybe soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

When I first started writing, I really didn't know what I was doing, and I blissfully enjoyed the process of stumbling about in fictional realms.  I didn't worry about the business side of writing, about the things beyond writing quality that might influence whether a story could be sold:  length, trends, unpopular tropes ...

And then I did worry about these things.  Not so much the trends part of it - I was never all that enthused about trying to find the latest wave to ride.  But length, particularly when it came to short fiction, and other elements that publishers / editors hunted for?  These things bedeviled me.  I pushed aside projects I thought about writing because I didn't think they would be able to sell.  When my short fiction crossed certain word thresholds - and it often did; I am, after all, a novelist at heart - I would get depressed and even angry with myself.  What was the point?

Recently, I've turned a corner.  I've decided I'm done worrying.  Partly this is because I have enough of a backlog that I'm not under pressure to produce new work with an eye towards sales (editing is another story, mind).  But mainly, I want to keep hold of that crazy joy at the heart of writing; I don't want to lose the simple enjoyment of it.  This is what motivated me to write my zombie novella, even though the genre is done to death and works of this length are a horror to sell:  I just thought it would be a blast to write.  And it was.  It was the most sheer fun I'd had writing anything in a long time.

But even as I prepare to goof off, there's something else I need to give myself permission to do:  pick projects that seem like a stretch for my skill level, that are difficult to pull off, that present challenges I have to think my way through.  Scylla and Charybdis was just such a project, for me - novel-length science fiction being out of my comfort zone - and I gave the foundation work more love and attention than usual.  Look where it ended up.

So I am resolved:  let the games begin.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

(For those who might not have seen it yet, my author interview for Kristell Ink: )

It always bewilders me when I come across authors who rename their characters deep into a project, sometimes more than once ... and even those who don't use names but placeholders.  Then there's that famous tale about Gone With The Wind and how Margaret Mitchell originally named her heroine Pansy.

I have trouble wrapping my head around it because for me, character and name are intertwined.  The act of naming a character crystallizes their identity.  There's something magical in the act, which is actually quite appropriate to the significance of names in ritual:  when you know someone's name, you have power over them.  When I would ponder new character ideas in my roleplaying games, I used to joke that as soon as I came up with a name, I was doomed.  That character would exist, regardless of whether I had the room to add another.

Of course, I've needed to change character names for one reason or another:  sometimes I'll find that two names are similar enough to cause confusion, and in one case, I accidentally broke a naming convention I had set out for myself.  When that happens, I try to preserve the feel of the name.  Usually that means changing it as little as possible, but sometimes, it's simply playing around with syllables, visuals and flow until I find something that feels right.  I might not even be able to explain why the old name and the new are analogous.

I think this may be a small part of why I enjoy secondary world fantasy so much:  I'm not limited to names that have been used on Earth.  I can pluck them out of the ether and find someone who maybe, just maybe, couldn't even be labeled with our names.  Or maybe that's just a fantasy like any other.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I don't tend to write in the same world - or even the same cosmology - very often.  I've spoken occasionally that I admire writers who work like that and enjoy it:  on the purely mercenary end, I have an inkling it probably is a surer route to building a fanbase.  Unfortunately, I just have way too much fun with the nuts and bolts of worldbuilding and a short attention span.  (Well ... as short as a novelist's attention span can be.)

However, recently, in contemplating some of my projects that haven't been in what I like to call my wheelhouse - "secondary world fantasy" - I've detected an amusing possibility.  Follow along with me:

Flow is contemporary fantasy - specifically, set in the late Aughts (2000 - 2009) before mobile technology exploded - with a backdrop secret history of fairy incursion and underwater sorcery.

Scylla and Charybdis is soft science fiction, set in a future where humanity departed Earth and colonized a handful of planets.  Travel and communication with the homeworld was always cumbersome because there nearest wormhole to Earth was several light-years away, and in the chaos of Y-Poisoning, the colonies lost contact with Earth.

My new novel project is ... uh ... post-apocalyptic science fantasy?  Let's go with that.  The premise is that magic exploded into the world through virtual reality, both mutating the human environment and opening portals to other worlds.  (It has been left open whether or not any magic existed within this world before.)

So since the existence of magic was hidden in Flow, it's quite possible that book could be history for the other two stories.  And there's even an argument for "magic" in Scylla and Charybdis:  Gwydion (among others) has hypermental abilities, which are presumed to have a scientific basis (look at studies of extrasensory perception, etc) ... but who is to say?  (Me, obviously.)

Looking further, again, the people in Scylla and Charybdis have lost contact with Earth.  What if, in the interim, things have turned very strange indeed?

I didn't set out to connect these storylines, nor am I completely sure that all the small detail facts - dates, background information, etc - line up.  But it's certainly an entertaining thought, and with Scylla and Charybdis pending edit and the new novel as yet unwritten, I could easily plant hints and Easter Eggs.

Oh, I probably won't; there's nothing really to be gained, and the downside is that it limits my options in all three venues - Flow is in finalized form, and I have pondered writing a sequel.  But then again, you never know ...