Sunday, January 28, 2018

Song Styles

One of the side characters - and suspects - in my fantasy mystery, Unnatural Causes, is Eldais, former apprentice of Cailys (the victim), who was booted from his position after he attempted to lash out at the royal heir.  Cailys chose not to turn him over to the guard, but now he's a pariah, with no one willing to take him on.  I chose this for his themesong:

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby - Kirsty MacColl

It pretty much addresses his sense of entitlement and his misfortunes head on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

So it's about that time again.  Submissions for the Sword & Sorceress anthology typically open in mid-April, and a few months before, I always look through my backlog, pick two stories in that vein (S&S allows one submission, then a second if the first is rejected), and edit them.

I'm always surprised how few stories I have that fit the profile:  most of my stories are female-focused, but not necessarily action-based, low magic or restricted to personal stakes.  Grant that the more recent anthologies don't seem to adhere strictly to this; I recall reading tales with exotic, magic-fueled worlds and/or kingdom-wide stakes.  But of course, classic sword-and-sorcery stories often deviate from the bullet point definition, too.  I tend to err on the side of choosing the stories that more closely align to it.

Right now, I have five stories marked for readthrough and decision:

Hearing Voices
Free To Fly
Shade Trees

These stories run the gamut as to when they were written:  Speechless is by far the oldest, and I think - though I can't recall - I even had it polished up for a previous year and ended up not sending it because my first submission was shortlisted.  But as I've matured as a writer, my ideas have grown, and this one may end up trunked.  (Or I may ask for readers to help me fix the issue.  If I think it's even worth it.  Sigh.)  By contrast, Free To Fly is fairly recent, while Fireworks and Shade Trees are the most recent tales I've finished.

They range in length, too:  Fireworks is flash fiction; Speechless is over the 7,000 word mark, which is, of course, a harder sell.

I'm concerned that Hearing Voices and Free To Fly may be too unconventional for S&S.  Hearing Voices is written from a first person plural perspective (aforementioned "voices"), while Free To Fly has an open / ambiguous ending.  Fireworks plays with my synesthesia research, while Shade Trees is actually from's December "holiday remix" challenge.

As I think about it, I probably need to make the decision on Speechless before I do anything else.  If I feel it's worthy of submission, this is the place to start.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Song Styles

This week, I heard a song on a television show I enjoy - The Blacklist, for the curious - that caught my attention.  I had to seek it out.  As soon as I heard the whole thing, I was hooked.  It appeals to the wanderer instinct, the rhythm is addictive, and the vocal acrobatics?  Totally catchy, and also totally doable for a slightly trained singer such as myself.  Check it out:

No Roots - Alice Merton

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A while back, I posted about how critiquing can be valuable for writers - not just the process of getting outside eyes on your work, but the act of reading critically, bringing your reactions together, and phrasing them in an effective manner.  Today, I wanted to talk about how I approach the critiques I receive:  how I filter them, decide how to proceed, what advice to use and what to ignore.

Important to everything that follows is this:  take critique with a grain of salt.  Not every reader is bothered by the same issues.  It may only be an "issue" for a particular individual.  I've received rejections-with-comments from editors that offer contradictory reasons and comments.  Once, I got a rejection on a story criticizing its florid prose.  The same story got praise for the lyrical descriptions ... from the very next place I submitted it.

(Some of you may be thinking:  what about the writers who are so arrogant they brush off anything that isn't praise?  I'm sure they're out there, but in my experience, they're the minority.  Most of us hate everything we've written and are prone to believe every negative word.)

In most critique situations, you have more than one reader.  Now, I know perfectly well that the best way to deal with this is to wait until all (or at least some) of the responses have come in before changing anything ... but I have a compulsion to apply and "resolve" the critique as soon as possible, so I'd be a hypocrite to advise others to wait.

I analyze each comment in a critique and decide how I feel about it:  whether I agree, disagree or am on the fence.  This involves knowing myself as a writer, what I want out of the story, and of course the content of the story.  (Readers are human, and I have gotten comments / confusion about a fact that is directly stated - but I've also been sure I said X, and gone back to find that wasn't the case ...)

If I agree with the comment, I will make the change right away.  Easy enough.

If I'm not sure whether the point is valid or not, I will put it on hold until I hear if others agree with it.

If I disagree with a point ... yeah, I tend to discard it, though not always.  If others echo the same concern, I will go back and take another look.  I also look at the objection and the reasoning behind it.  Sometimes, there's a way to address it in another fashion.  Let's say a critique says (this is awful blunt, but let's go with it):  "This character is boring.  Cut them."  I could remove the character entirely ... or I could amp her up and justify her place in the story.  Not every reader will explain or even know the reason behind their comments, so it's up to the writer to do a bit of detective work ... even go to the reader directly, if you can do it without being confrontational.

Also, sometimes it's just about what I want the story to be.  For instance, I wrote a short story once with a supporting character who betrayed the main character.  The ending affirmed his decision and his true colors ... and people hated it.  They wanted him to be redeemed, but that was never my intention.  In a way, maybe it was a backhanded compliment:  they liked him enough to want him to be a good guy.

Finally, sometimes it's about knowing your audience and their tastes.  Sometimes, they'll tell you ("I hate happy endings") and sometimes, if you've dealt with the same people for a while, you'll already know.  Personally, I hate first person present tense with a passion unless there's some pressing reason for it.  It doesn't convey any more immediacy, to me; I just find it distracting and unbookish.  (That is not a word.  I know.)  As a critique partner, I will note this directly - "I hate first person present tense and I didn't mind it at all here" or "I should preface this with the fact that I hate first person present tense, but I don't think it worked here ..." - but not everyone does.  But your reader's tastes may add a few extra pinches of salt to a comment.

It's all a delicate balance between believing in your story and trusting that outside eyes will make it stronger.  Go too far in either direction, and the story suffers.  Even if you change an oddball story to appeal to a wider audience, it may no longer be the story you want to tell ... and to me, that is the more important part.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Song Styles

I've always thought that song lyrics, out of context, can make excellent story prompts for writers.  For my flash / poetry boot camp, I took a line from a Rihanna song - "I'm lost, you've got me looking for the rest of me" - though I didn't end up using that particular prompt.  I also once challenged a group of writers with this gem from the Sondheim musical Into The Woods:

I'll see you soon again; I hope that when I do, it won't be on a plate.

The results were well worth the irritable reactions.

But one of my favorite from-lyrics prompts has to come out of Heather Nova's Maybe An Angel:

And when you said that you were dead, I hung on.

It's a line that doesn't make sense even in context, granted, but it suggests so many things, particularly for a writer like me who is fascinated with afterlives.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Song Styles

New year, new car CDs?  Not really, actually:  I swapped them out mid-December.  I've stopped sharing my other themes, seeing as my music choices wander between the obscure and the obvious, but I do like sharing my odd thought process for my word association CD:  where the songs link by title and occasionally topic through stream of consciousness connection.

So here's my most recent collection, including some brand-new acquisitions:

Spin - Rachel Fuller
Dancin' in Circles - Lady Gaga
Circle of Stone - Laura Powers (song treats the stone circle as an otherworld gateway, so ...)
Underworld - Joss Stone
Afterlife - Ingrid Michaelson
Death of Love - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Would You Call That Love - Kelly Clarkson
He Never Mentioned Love - Kirsty MacColl
Never Said - Liz Phair
The Last Words You Said - Sarah Brightman
Last Letter - Katharine McPhee
Writing On The Wall - Blackmore's Night
The Walls Keep Saying Your Name - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Four Pink Walls - Alessia Cara (I consider this a metaphor for heart walls, so ...)
Into My Heart - Rachel Fuller
Bringin' On The Heartbreak - Mariah Carey
How To Be A Heartbreaker - Marina and the Diamonds
How To Touch A Girl - JoJo
Touch Me - Kirsty MacColl
Don't Touch Me There - Dian Diaz
Don't - Jewel
I Didn't - Kristin Chenoweth
Didn't I - Kelly Clarkson
I Didn't Plan It - Sara Bareilles
Wild Child - Enya
Children Of The World - Amy Grant
Small World - Idina Menzel
Our Little World - Into The Woods soundtrack
Too Little, Too Late - JoJo
It's Too Late - Gloria Estefan
Midnight Heartache - September
Midnight Bottle - Colbie Caillat
Bottle It Up - Sara Bareilles
Hold Me Down - Halsey
Bow Down - Chvrches
I Bow Out - Whitney Houston
Take a Bow - Leona Lewis
Applause - Lady Gaga
Private Show - P!nk
Show Me - Idina Menzel
Reveal - Celine Dion

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

The end of the year was tumultuous, hence my radio silence over the past few weeks.  I've never been much for New Year's resolutions, though I do swear by setting goals; I simply don't hold much stock in waiting until or focusing on the first of the year.  The calendar is arbitrary, after all.

On the culinary front, I have some solid goals, though they're mainly coming about now because I've settled into my new job and have time to breathe after the holiday madness.  There are some professional certifications I intend to obtain over the next year; two of them are fairly pro forma (just taking a test to put a rubber stamp on what I already know, maybe with a little brush-up), and one of them is long-term, which I won't qualify for until August - one of the requirements is a certain length of work experience.

On the harp front, I don't have any specific goals, but I have a potential new student and a number of gigs through the first few months of the year.  That should keep me busy for a while.

On the writing front, I must admit I'm at a bit of a loss.  The only goals I can think of either involve external gatekeeping (sell short stories to professional markets; acquire an agent; sell a novel to a major publisher) or more of the same old (finish writing / editing a novel, write a certain number of short stories / poems / flash).  I know I want to get more involved with beta readers and maybe a small critique group, but I'm not sure of the logistics or the details I want.

Thoughts welcome, but for now ... onwards.  That's the important thing.