Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I'm currently thinking ahead for Unnatural Causes and coming to the realization that I need beta readers.  I've been asking my writer friends for some tips and advice in that department, but there's one barrier:

Critiques dial my nerves up to eleven.  I also mentioned this on my writer forum some months ago, and a lot of people were bewildered.  They were surprised I still got nerves despite how long I'd been writing; despite the fact that I typically got positive comments on my stories; despite the fact that this group is wonderful for writing tactful, thoughtful critiques.

... none of which really moves the needle on my stress levels.

Why?  It's not because I'm super sensitive:  I want to know what's wrong, not be cossetted into a false sense of security.  I have a good strategy for analyzing critiques and deciding how to apply them.  I don't knee-jerk reject advice or get angry at the people providing it.

No, the person I get angry with is myself.

I am a perfectionist.  When something I've written has flaws, my first reaction is depression.  I tear myself up for being a subpar writer, and how could I not have seen that?  My second reaction is a frantic flurry to Fix It All NOW.  (This plays into that whole strategy above, too:  I've had to force myself not to act on certain advice until I see what other readers think or I've mulled over the best way to make a correction.)  It needs to be flawless, and here's where my tendency to incubate and backburner whirls about and bites me in the butt:  I can't stop worrying at it until I've fixed it.

Also where having a smartphone is more trouble than it's worth:  I can and do get my email at work, where I obviously can't do any editing because I usually am elbow deep in pasta or some such.

The only solution to this, really, is to be gentle with myself.  That, goodness knows, is an ongoing process, and broader than writing alone.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

GoodReads Review: Wildfire by Jo Clayton

Wildfire (Drinker of Souls: Wild Magic, #2)Wildfire by Jo Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second episode of Faan's story, as she searches for her mother, control of her powers, and her own agency separate from the gods that toy with her. It suffers from a problem common to many a Book 2 of an old school fantasy trilogy: it's the middle, and nothing much gets resolved.

Indeed, as with the first book, Wildfire is a product of its time. The reader is plunged into the world with many unfamiliar words and customs and left to find her own way ... much as Faan herself is. There's much rich worldbuilding and some things that aren't quite explained well enough, but it feels like a very real, complex and lived-in place.

Faan has immense powers, but they are handled perfectly: she's a flawed adolescent struggling to make sense of it (without teen angst, mind), and it's as much a curse as a blessing. This is an example of book where being a Chosen One really works, and it feels vital and alive even to a modern reader.

The main problem with Wildfire is that much of the book is taken up with the city-wide conspiracy which tumbles Faan and her new fate-tangled acquaintances into trouble. This would be fine if they were involved in the continuance and untangling of the plot, but instead, the two storylines diverge. I never felt as if I was given any reason to care about the succession struggle going on in the city. I wasn't bored by it, but I wasn't invested in it, either.

That said, there are some great snapshot character portrayals, and the plot thread involving Navarre and his significant other, Kitya, has some really interesting elements. I'm curious to finish the series and see how it all ties up.

View all my reviews

Song Styles

So ... I did it again.

Another few months, another set of car CDs, one of which is themed on word association.  I always enjoy following a chain of thought via song.

Glassheart - Leona Lewis
Nothing Broken But My Heart - Celine Dion
Breaking Dishes - Rihanna
Breaking Ties - Oceanlab
Break Free - Colbie Caillat
Free Me - Emma Bunton
Free World - Kirsty MacColl
Real World - Eisley
Imagination - Helen Reddy
Me and My Imagination - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The Wizard and I - Wicked soundtrack
You and I - Ingrid Michaelson
Together We - Clannad
Come Together - Echosmith
Happy Together - The Turtles
Happy - Leona Lewis
Sorry - Solas
Something's Going On - September (this connection is embedded in the lyrics; it's a "you'll be sorry" revenge song, and a glorious one)
Something In The Air - Sarah Brightman
Like Lightning - Idina Menzel
Situations Like Lightning - Carrie Newcomer
Thunder - Leona Lewis
Various Storms and Saints - Florence + The Machine
Kisses From The Sky - The Green Children
It's In The Rain - Enya
Wrong End of the Rainbow - Anne Murray
Blue - Chantal Kreviazuk
Clearest Blue - Chvrches
Brighter Than The Sun - Colbie Caillat
Wrong Side of the Sun - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
You Thought Wrong - Kelly Clarkson
Right To Be Wrong - Joss Stone
Right Away - Gloria Estefan
Right Now - The Pussycat Dolls
Nowadays - Chicago soundtrack
Rest of Yesterday - Alana Davis
Miles to Go (Before I Sleep) - Celine Dion
1000 Miles Away - Carrie Newcomer
Many The Miles - Sara Bareilles

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I recently read a post (linked here) that discussed the differences in realism between old school painting and modern artists - the former of whom generally worked from live models, and the latter of whom had photographs to work with.  I encourage reading the whole thing, because it's fascinating, but one of my takeaways is that the difference between real life and painting can also be compared to the difference between real life and fiction.  

Instead of rendering every detail in a photorealistic sense, the writer picks and chooses what to highlight, what to blur.  Instead of capturing a single moment in time, the writer captures the essence of the subject, suggesting details that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Fiction shows us the world as we think we see it:  after all, when we look at a lake at sunset or an old friend, we don't notice each individual tree or every freckle, but we might notice a cluster of birds or new earrings.  Trying to portray every detail means the important gets buried ... which is actually a technique used now and then to conceal something that will become crucial later on, like a real clue in a mystery plot hidden amongst the red herrings.

There's a sleight of hand in both paintings and fiction.  Verisimilitude is not an exact imitation of the real, but rather something that feels real.  We can step back and analyze it, but the mind rebels.  We want to buy into the fantasy.

And, of course, a different artist can look upon the exact same scene and create a completely different painting (or story).  Our world is filtered through our own personal paint palette.

I'm not much of a visual artist, but I would wager that, if you give five artists a photograph, you will end up with more similar final results than if you set those same five artists loose on a landscape.  A photograph forces us to see reality, at least if we stop and really inspect it; a painting or other artistic rendering shows us the world as the artist wants us to see it.  It's their reality ... their fiction.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day!

Here's to all the dads, granddads, stepdads, foster dads, potential dads, like-a-dads, and any other paternal figures I may have forgotten, including the doggie dads.

When I got my first dog, Nimi (short for Nimue), my Dad was telecommuting.  I don't think he was particularly enthusiastic about having a dog in the house at first.  But ... Nimi would sneak up into his office and curl up in his lap during phone conferences.  She would stay there for hours.  They were buddies.

It's the day I usually make song-related posts, and oddly, a song about fathers didn't immediately come to mind.  But after some thought, I remembered this, which I've always loved:

I'll Go Too - Carrie Newcomer

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Meanderings

It's been a while since I've posted any excerpts, so I thought it was about time.  This is sometimes tricky, because the further I get into writing a novel, the harder it is to find a segment that makes sense without a lot of context and/or doesn't give away significant events in the plot.

This bit from Surgeburnt, though, is one of the past-storylines / flashbacks.  The reader has encountered references to Iskedelis, the non-human inventor who worked with Maren (the narrator) and her crew, but this the first time she's appeared directly in a scene:

Iskedelis' lab spanned most of a single abandoned floor, a labyrinth of improbables with a ridiculous number of reflective surfaces.  She had always loved shiny things.

"Desi!" she called.  “Come over and have a seat.  Would you like some tea?”

I surveyed the collection of slanted, paneled, and protusion-laden surfaces looming around her.  “Where should I …”

“Oh, foolish of me,” she chirped, spinning about with surprising dexterity despite the length of her frame.  Vrin bodies were divided into three segments, and they were most comfortable with the first two segments parallel to the ground.  She picked up a device that looked suspiciously like a toaster to reveal a bench beneath.  “Right here."

Iskedelis was small for her kind:  in first-joint stance, she stood only four feet tall.  Her carapace was a soft, gently burnished silver in hue, dusted with soot-grey spots.  The eyes that sought mine were the faceted compound eyes of an insect, with a saffron undertone I had only noticed at the tenth look.  A lot of Vrin wore sunglasses even indoors, not just to give humans normal to focus on, but because their eyes were unusually sensitive to light.  Iskedelis’ lab was dim, and she had long ago learned she didn’t have to hide around us.

“What kind of tea?” I asked, sitting.

“It’s Liber,” she said, then paused expectantly.

“Never heard of it,” I said.  “But whatever.”

She drooped, her segments slumping together.  “You don’t get it?  Liber … tea.  I laughed when Archer told me.”

“Remind me to smack Archer upside the head for feeding you bad comedy,” I said.  “Whatever kind of tea it is, I’ll have it.”

Iskedelis recovered, scurrying over to her teapot.  Her seven-fingered hands were vastly overqualified for the task, though the lack of a shorter digit sometimes made handling human objects tricky.  She could bend any of those fingers multiple times, but it wasn’t quite a substitute for a thumb.

Infinitely polite even with such news waiting, Iskedelis hustled back with two cups, handing mine over along with the sugar bowl.  She perched back on her haunches, watching me as I took my first sip.

Only once I had set down the cup did she speak.  “Well?  What did you find out?"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Song Styles

I didn't post last Sunday because, on top of working, I had a lengthy meeting with two fellow harpers.  We run the Cincinnati Harpers' Robin together:  a group of traditional lever harp players who perform a few times a year, with a specialty in Celtic and early music.  Because our harpers have busy lives and varying skill levels, we are only able to rehearse as a group once a month, so we typically start preparing in the summer for our "winter tour":  Christmas through March-aka-St-Patrick's-Month.

We have a healthy repertoire, so we decided to limit our new additions to two, both of 17th century origins.  Here's links to lute versions of both:

We also looked at some of our older repertoire, tunes we had retired for a season or two and are considering bringing back.  This is one of my favorites, an English dance tune from the Playford collection that was actually played in the American colonies.  This will probably date me:  I first encountered this tune playing Sid Meier's Colonization!  In this case, this is an orchestral arrangement of the tune.

Looking forward to another season of good harping.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Monday Meanderings

So ... that story has found a new way to bedevil me, and I haven't even started to write it yet.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you may know the tale I'm talking about.  For anyone else, here's the two-bit summary:

I have what was intended to be a very brief short story about a character who has been selected for an important position.  The pivot of the tale is her discovery of the cost involved.  I initially was dithering how to lay out the reveal and the resolution.  I'm now leaning towards an open-ended story, but to minimize the sense that the tale isn't finished, I'm introducing two other characters in the same boat with her.  Their storylines will resolve, even if the main story is left hanging.

So what's the problem now?  Hang onto your hats ...

Point of view.  I was originally going to write in third person, because the fact that there was only one character already creates a tight focus on her, and (on a non-story-related point) both the novel I'm currently editing and the one I'm currently writing are in first person, so I'm in first-person overload right now.

But now, with two other characters, that dynamic feels like it changes.  Adding them makes her less important, in a third person context, even though her inner thoughts will still be the only ones portrayed.  And this is a story about the character, not about the central idea.  First person would also allow me to use just a touch of the unreliable narrator effect:  this is what the character thinks about herself, but is that true from the evidence she's presented?  The character's personal beliefs and attitude will play strongly into the choice she makes.  The more evidence I give the reader to decide which way she might jump, the better ...

Besides "I'm overloaded with first person," (to which my mental response is kind of, "Well, suck it up, writer.") the main argument to NOT use first person seems to be that to write a deliberately open-ended story in first person feels a bit unfair / gimmicky.  The idea that a first person narrative is an individual telling their story to someone else / the reader is implicit, and ... can a storyteller deliberately omit the ending?  In this case, if the story *were* being told to another person (and I'm not planning on making that frame explicit / direct), the choice she made would be obvious.

I suppose that's a way to resolve it:  "Well, you can see the choice I made."  Hmm ...