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 ...