Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I've been mulling over alternate history of late:  how does one historical turning point change the shape of the world?  Much fiction has been composed and spilled on the subject.  It's also a difficult thing to get right:  any one event can have consequences in several areas, including some that may not seem related.  This, admittedly, is a good part of the reason why I haven't written any alternate history myself, unless you count the wackiness of "The Fosterling Conspiracy," a short story that starts in Elizabethan-era Wales.

(I have played with time travel in some of my fantasy stories, a related topic.  In my Ishene and Kemel stories - the time mage and her bodyguard - the prevailing theory indicates that temporal paradox could, quite literally, destroy reality, so they take "make no changes to history" with deadly seriousness.

For those not familiar with temporal paradox, the idea is:  if you go back in time to make a change in history, then what happens in the "new" present, where history is different, so you don't need to travel back in time, but you *do* need to travel back in time, because otherwise, it will happen as it originally did?  If you entirely can't follow that (understandably), the classic scenario used to explain it is a time traveler who goes back and kills his mother.  Well, all right, now you were never born ... so who killed your mother?)

Back to alternate history, the further the world progresses from the inciting change, the harder it is to measure the consequences.  Another thing to consider is whether the evolution of technology, social measures, etc, is parallel or divergent.

For instance, consider a world where the Americas were never "discovered" by Europeans.  Think of all the technologies that were invented in America even before the 1900s.  In this alternate history, would those technologies simply not exist at all?  Would they have been developed in another fashion, by someone else, but with small differences?  That's parallel evolution.  Or ... would the technologies invented to solve life's problems been completely different?  That's divergent evolution.

Obviously, parallel evolution is way easier to deal with.  It's a cousin to another time travel concept, "plastic time," which is sometimes used as at least a partial resolution for paradox.  Plastic time is the idea that history has a natural tendency to go back to the shape it was; it corrects itself.  If you go back in time to murder Hitler (another classic scenario), one of his general steps up and takes over.

What I want to see in a time travel story is, instead of basing the alternate timeline on a big, pivotal moment, the alteration being a smaller event, even one that seems minor on the face of it.  I watched Genius recently, the television series following the life of Albert Einstein, and I wondered:  what if he had continued to collaborate with his first wife, instead of shutting her out?  How much further would they have advanced his field?  Would he have become politically involved?  Would he have spawned the atomic bomb?

Another thought:  what if Mary Shelley had never been born?  Frankenstein is often regarded as the first science fiction book.  The imagery in this book has pervaded our culture, and how many artists and even scientists has it inspired?

I can see two ways to approach such a story.  The first is to cue the reader into the change right away, so they can appreciate all the nuances as they arise.  The second is to treat it like a mystery, showing a world changed and only at the end revealing that point of divergence.

Obviously, this isn't done often (that I've seen) because such a change is more likely to be appropriate for a short story, and that's a lot of research / work for a brief payout.  Does anyone have any examples they might want to share?

Word count this week:  2,222
Pages edited:  4.5
Poems edits:  2

Clerical note:  I may move my weekly blog post back to Wednesday due to my work schedule.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Song Styles

For your amusement, sympathy, and perhaps to snare an unsuspecting soul into the same trap that has tortured me for the last few days ... for some reason, this song has been an earworm in the back of my brain:

The Red Shoes - Kate Bush

The song references a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a pair of enchanted shoes that force the wearer to dance endlessly.  This particular version seems to imply a cure that, while not part of the original fairy tale, is a very common trope:  to escape the red shoes, one must give them to someone else, passing the curse along.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Years ago, I read Heinlein's The Puppet Masters for a course.  I was underwhelmed; it was a fairly good story, but nothing special.  Admittedly, for me as a reader, it was more difficult to become engaged because the female lead was probably considered a "strong female character" by the author, but her portrayal was painfully dated.  (It may not have been as bad as I remember, to be fair.)

But one part of The Puppet Masters stuck with me.  The alien invaders of the novel physically bond to their human hosts.  After the initial threat is neutralized, the government requires everyone to be naked, so there's no place for the alien to hide.  But instead of this being distracting and titillating for people, the fact that every part of every person is revealed removes the interest of mystery.  It becomes part of the background.  Heinlein doesn't linger on it any more than that.

It's not a new thought, of course:  what is concealed is more alluring than what is revealed.  But Heinlein's illustration is both literal and direct.  Imagine a whole world with nothing (physically) to hide.  Or this, for the matter of that.

It's also worth keeping in mind as a general principle.  When everything is spelled out, the attention wanders; boredom sets in.  Keep people guessing ... but the reveal had also better pay off.

Word count this week:  1,843 (... it was a crazy one)
Pages edited:  7.5
Poems edited:  1

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Song Styles

Who Wants To Be A Hero? is still seeking an agent, which means that some typing is curtailed due to my perpetual crossing of fingers.  I've spoken before about some of the character themesongs, and today I'd like to highlight Senashi, the goddess of acclaim, public opinion and popularity ... who, of course, is the instigator of the game / show around which the novel is structured.

So what's her song?  It's neither subtle nor obscure, and you've probably heard it:

The Fame - Lady Gaga

Really, what's more appropriate for the reality TV set?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I recently did a "Boot Camp" with the goal of writing a flash fiction or poetry piece, per day, for two weeks.  I mostly concentrated on flash because that was what I "needed" for submission purposes, but I did finish four poems.  (I partly stopped with poetry because they were becoming increasingly disturbing ... not sure why that happened, but I needed to stop unnerving myself with my own writing.)

What I became aware of is that writing poetry, particularly - for me, at least - within fixed form and line lengths, helps strengthen a writer's sense of word choice.  In a short story or novel, it's easy for a cliche phrase to slip by in the flow to the next and the next.  In a poem, the content is finite and each phrase needs attention, and often reworking to arbitrary lengths or rhythm.  This draws a writer's eye with laser focus to the exact words, the way of shaping image:  the journey as well as the destination.

Some writers will also use a form as a starting point and depart from it when it doesn't serve them; this is another great way to heighten awareness of exactly how you're making your point.  Is the original phrase(s), within the context of the form, most effective, or does this change that departs from the form enhance the poem?

Like flash fiction, a poem is also a way to crystallize an idea in a compact number of words.  Finding that essence makes the writer aware of what's actually needed to convey the story.  (And there is a story, even if it's a progression of moods or an internal conversation rather than a specific plot.)

As a writer, I tend to be fairly deliberate:  if a word choice isn't right, or I'm missing a fact, I need to resolve that before continuing.  I spend a lot of time in my initial write of story openings to make sure that all the pieces are entering play.  People who toss in parentheticals to (fill this in later) boggle me.  But even if one is more a "throw down words and don't look back" writer, poetry can be helpful when you get to the editing stages.  Clunky or dull phrases leap out where it might be possible to skim past them in a manuscript.

I happen to write (usually) overtly fantastical poetry:  seers, ghosts, aliens.  But even if tackling more mundane subject matter, poetry sharpens focus and attunes one to specific word choice.

Writing 7/31:

Word Count:  8,560
Poems written:  2
Pages edited:  5

Writing 8/7:
Word Count:  4,857 (... it's been a week)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Song Styles

I'll be posting more from my Scylla and Charybdis playlist once I have a release date for the novel, but in the meantime, here's a "general purpose" song on it that I really like simply because it's imaginative and joyous:

In The Arms Of The Milky Way - Laura Powers

Laura Powers is what I would describe as New Age Pop, stuffed with every Celtic cliche you can imagine.  As a professional Celtic musician, sometimes I'm kind of embarrassed by my fondness for her stuff, but it is surprisingly catchy and fun.

As a sidebar, the television show Salvation recently mentioned the mythological Scylla and Charybdis.  (I keep meaning to write a blog post about Salvation, which is to impending-apocalypse science fiction what Laura Powers is to Celtic mythology:  a heartfelt but not particularly original love letter.)  

Anyhow, the characters on Salvation discussed the part of the story most people don't address, which is Odysseus' solution to sailing between them.  With the whirlpool Charybdis, the danger was all or nothing; they might be able to evade it, but it might suck the ship and all its passengers down to doom.  Scylla, on the other hand, was a monster, a woman from the waist up, and vicious dogs from the waist down (given Greek misogyny, there's gotta be a metaphor there).  She would certainly kill some of the crew ... but not everyone.  

So the mythological choice between Scylla and Charybdis is ... do you choose the certain sacrifice of some over a chance that everyone might make it ... or everyone might die?  It's a no-win situation.

How this metaphor applies to *my* Scylla and Charybdis is another question.  I didn't have this story specifically in mind when I structured the plot, though there are mythological influences sprinkled throughout.  (In the original short story, when Gwydion was the *only* male you see, I very deliberately chose a name from another mythos - Welsh.  And I can't recall specifically, but I don't think that the name of his sister-in-law, Sophie - wisdom - was chosen randomly, either ...)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Novel Goals

I figured it was about time I put some long-term goals into place, writing wise.  I've always found deadlines liberating, and the purpose of posting them here?

Anyone reading this blog post is a witness.  Feel free to hold me to it.

November 23:  finish first draft of Surgeburnt
December 1:  finish editing on Unnatural Causes, synopsis (waaaah I don't wanna) and query (nooooo)
January 1, 2018:  start next novel (writing phase)

Note that these dates are all deliberately before the holidays, with the exception of the last, because I expect to be madly, ridiculously, eye-crossingly busy during the Christmas season.

In my family, we refer the "drop-deadline" - that is, the time by which something absolutely, positively has to be done to avoid dire consequences.  (Use this term sparingly, as it has been known to cause the uninitiated to crack up laughing.)

So for the first goal posts, if I don't make them, the drop-deadline is the first of the year.

Let's get cracking.  Or rather, typing.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Song Styles

So I spent the last two weeks doing a self-imposed Boot Camp, writing a flash or poetry piece a day from a list of prompts I collected / generated.  My prompt from Day 12 was "She watched the bloodstained dress burn."  (Not necessarily to incorporate the sentence verbatim, but the concept / beat.)

But another thread of inspiration popped into my head to drive this particular story:

Cry To The Beat Of The Band - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Yes, this from Wanderlust, which I've described before as one step away from being a fantasy concept album.  This is probably one of the *least* overtly fantastical songs on the album.