Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Had trouble coming up with a topic for today's post, so on a whim, I inputted "writing" and "fantasy" into a random blog topic generator.  It spat back:  "Why We Love Writing (And You Should, Too!)"

No, no, don't.  I'm put in mind of the Dorothy Parker quote:  "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

In any case, it seems like writers exist (or at least, this writer exists) in a constant state of paradox. We love writing and loathe it, beating our heads against the wall when the beautifully rendered scene in our minds turns into drivel on the page. Our work is derivative drek, but somehow - simultaneously! - worthy of publication by the big houses, glowing reviews, maybe even a movie ...

And the ability to hold both these states in suspension, often at the same time, is probably what makes the writing work. Stray too far in one direction or the other, and the result is stagnation.

So yes, if you're encouraging someone to write, you're telling them, "You should be a little bit unhappy all the time!" On the other hand, you're also telling them to be a bit happy all the time, so ... perhaps it balances out.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Song Styles

Curse my fickle writer brain!  I've committed myself to my next novel project and am partway through my third book on the research for it.  I am genuinely excited for everything it has to offer.  The characters promise to be a lot of fun, a study in contrasts, and it will be great to write from multiple POVs again ... especially since they have vastly different outlooks on the world and events around them.  I'm also tackling a(nother) mystery plotline, which has been a long term writerly goal of mine for a while.  Yes, Unnatural Causes is a mystery, but this one should be different enough not to feel like a retread.

And yet ... this morning, I woke up feeling the sudden, sharp pull of another project that has been on the backburner.  In some senses, it's a rewrite project, but it's more extensive than that:  I'm taking storylines and characters and transporting them to another world with different rules, which will inevitably change the dynamics.  These are people I know like the back of my hand.  My concerns, and the reason I had decided - ha! - not to tackle this project yet is the cast and plot are huge and complicated, and I'm concerned that it won't end up being original enough.

One of the facets I am very pleased with and think is unusual, though, is the fact that much of the plot is driven by the romance plot ... between the villain and his beloved.  It is a genuine, deep affection, but it also causes a lot of havoc in its wake.  I've always said that the question behind it is:  sure, true love can conquer all ... but should it?

Among the songs I associate with this thread is (from her perspective):

Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis

The violent metaphors take on a vaguely sinister cast in this context.  It's a great illustration of the beginning of a downward spiral.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

She has arrived, and she is beautiful.

I'm talking about my proof for Scylla and Charybdis - a lovely surprise, considering it wasn't due for another week.  It's a big, meaty book, a doorstop, glossy and gorgeous.  Watch this space for a cover reveal once I've had a chance to flip through and make sure that all is well.

(The contrast, size-wise, between Flow and Scylla and Charybdis is a little funny - Flow is a fairly short novel.  SaC could devour it, much like its namesake(s).)

I'm excited and a little scared.  The usual jitters:  will the world love my book baby as much as I do?  Well, probably not ... that's a tall order.  But I do hope it will find a special place in a few hearts.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Coming Soon ...!

I now have a release date for Scylla and Charybdis, my space opera / soft science fiction novel from Grimbold Books:  April 15th!

This is sadly *not* Tax Day this year, as would be somehow twistedly appropriate, but I'm very excited.  Watch this space for more details, peeks behind the scenes, and possibly other goodies.

Here's the brief summary of Scylla and Charybdis:

For Anaea Carlisle – raised on an isolated space station populated solely by women – the world is far too small.  On a salvage mission, she helps rescue a hypermental named Gwydion who challenges everything she thought she knew.  When she flees the station to prevent him from having his memory erased, she finds herself in a brand-new world and struggling to find a home.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Song Styles

For the second time, I'd like to do something a little different on a Sunday, discuss some new-to-me music that I thought others might like.

I'll start with the most recent and high-profile album, Kelly Clarkson's Meaning Of Life.  If you've turned the radio on any time within the past six months or so, you can't fail to have heard "Love So Soft," and it's a good example of what to expect:  energetic, sassy R&B-style music, driven by Kelly's powerful voice.  Her belting strength is ideally suited to these songs, always with enough punch to carry over the elaborate arrangements.  In this vein, the ballads are generally the weakest songs.  There's too much going on to allow the listener to really feel the heart of the song.  That said, "Would You Call That Love" is an exception and one of my favorites.

At first listen, Meaning of Life feels very "samey" - it takes a few listen-throughs to begin to appreciate each song on its own and their varied character.  "Whole Lotta Woman" is bound to drag a grin out of you, and another favorite is the closing number, "Go High."  This is one of those songs where the combination of melody, lyrics and arrangement are perfectly suited to each other.

Next up is Rachel Fuller's Cigarettes & Housework.  Who in the world is Rachel Fuller?  She's a pianist singer-songwriter with intricate arrangements and an ethereal but still rounded voice.  I discovered her from the Shall We Dance? soundtrack, where one of her songs - "Wonderland" - is featured.  (The song is also on this album by what I assume is the original title, not used for obvious reasons:  "Eat Me")  And ... this album is wonderful, elegant piano combined with clever but easy lyrics and a pop-rock spirit.  To get a feel for what Cigarettes & Housework offers, check out "Into My Heart."

I admit that the middle section of the album sags; I have trouble distinguishing between "Imperfection," "Happy To Be Sad" and "Nothing Worthwhile" ... but really, the worst part about this album is it's a one-off.  Fuller never put out another full album after its 2004 release.  That puts me into a "Spin."

I also have to highlight Idina Menzel's I Stand.  This is an earlier album than her recent idina, which I covered in my last music review.  People know Menzel as Elsa, as Rachel's Mother from Glee, as the titular character from Wicked, but oddly enough not as a singer in her own right ... which is a shame, because her voice is perfection and her music is full of warmth and beauty.  I Stand doesn't show off her astonishing range quite as much, but it's still obvious she is head and shoulders above the average singer.  It's also refreshingly easy to understand the lyrics, probably because Menzel has a background in musicals, where every phrase is essential to the plot.

This album is sweet and satisfying, with a nice range of different moods and pacing.  Its darkest moment is probably my favorite:  "I Feel Everything."

Finally, if you're a Sara Bareilles fan, you probably know about the Waitress musical, and it's likely you've heard at least pieces of What's Inside, her personal take on selected songs she composed for the musical.  Waitress is charming, heartwarming and hilarious, but is it worth owning both?  Absolutely.  The songs that overlap vary in quality; "I Didn't Plan It" is amazing, raw and powerful, superior to Bareilles' version, while the more "talky" version of "When He Sees Me" just seems to lose some of its clever verve.  

But there's a ton more in the Waitress soundtrack.  In fact, it's not just songs from the musical, it is the entire book, including orchestral interludes and even a brief piece where the main character speaks to her baby.  Some of these are throwaway, but others are highly enjoyable - I quite liked "Club Knocked Up."  As this might imply, Waitress is very much a musical, with conversational interludes, sung interruptions, and ensemble interaction.  If you're not sure this is your cup of tea, try out "The Negative" - that will give you an idea if you want a bigger taste of Waitress.

I do find it interesting where the lyrics differ between What's Inside and Waitress.  Not all of these changes seem to involve the shift between an independent song and a musical number, so I wonder if they were organic changes made in rehearsal or development.

And in conclusion, I have to highlight this gem:  "I Love You Like A Table."

Happy listening!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

No blog post last week because of craziness at work:  we were preparing for a VIP client dinner to be held in the shop.  It went very well, but I didn't have much energy (physical or mental) for anything else.  Was a full five days of work in a row (keeping in mind that I work 10s), which happens only occasionally and flattens me like a pancake.  Or roadkill.

In any event, I've been doing a lot of research lately about synesthesia.  For those unfamiliar, synesthesia is a trait where a sensory experience triggers a second, involuntary perception.  For instance, synesthetes often see the letters of the alphabet in unique colors.  These perceptions are innate, unique / personal to the individual, and unchanging.  (With some exceptions to the rule, of course.)  Another common form of synesthesia involves units of time:  as in Wednesday Is Indigo Blue (Cytowic), the book I just finished reading.

Why synesthesia?  I've known about it in general terms for a while and thought it would make a good basis for a magic system.  In doing my research, I've found many aspects of synesthesia that complement the idea of magic ... and of course, discovered that part of my original concept for how the senses would divide made no sense at all.

Scientifically, synesthesia is not fully understood.  There seems to be some basis for the idea that as infants, we are all synesthetic:  we don't divide sensory input between senses, but absorb it all as a whole.  Only as we develop do we begin to distinguish between sight, sound, taste.  Those who do see colored numbers or music are often branded as weird by the people around them and learn to hide their perceptions to avoid being mocked or teased.

For my purposes, this whole aspect of a "hidden world" gives it great resonance for a magic system.

Many creative people experience some form of synesthesia.  Some use it as an aid to their artistry, for instance a photographer who waits for the right "tone" to snap her images, and others try to translate the synesthetic impressions only they experience, but certainly not every synesthetic artist falls into these two camps.

And synesthesia borders on metaphor, often mistaken for it in literature.  It's a way of describing the world through unconventional senses, often in a manner that surprises - for while there are some patterns in how synesthesia manifests, it is most often idiosyncratic rather than structured and logical.  As a writer, I love the idea of capturing an experience through an unexpected union or comparison.

One thing I have found continually reinforced in my reading is the idea that each synesthete experiences different responses to a stimulus.  There might be some similarities or overlaps, but everyone's synesthetic response is different.  From the beginning, I wanted to make my magic system unique to the user.  Every person "sees" a spell differently and thus duplicates it.  This fits perfectly with how synesthesia operates in the real world.

Of course, since I am writing a secondary world fantasy, and synesthesia is literally manifesting with magic, I can feel free to bend some of the real world conventions, and I probably will in regards to the comparative rarity of smell / taste manifestations.  However, I like knowing what the "rules" are before I break them, so I can do it strategically.


Sunday, February 04, 2018

Song Styles

There's one song I haven't formally put on my Surgeburnt soundtrack because it describes a romantic arc that I hadn't decided I was going to use ... and here I am, at least (I hope) three quarters of the way through the first draft, and I'm still not totally sure whether it's a yes or a no, though I'm closer to the decision than I was.  It's been a very organic process, reading between the lines for these characters, but if it does happen, it will be a ...

Long Shot - Kelly Clarkson