Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I posted briefly about this on Facebook, but I thought it bore another look.  Most of you who are acquainted with writers (which I suppose, almost by default, means all of you) have probably heard the term "plotters vs pantsers" at some point.  It refers to two types of writers:  those who outline and plot in detail before writing, and those who wing it - going by the seat of their pants.

There's another way to refer to this, and it's a bit more elegant:  Architects versus Gardeners.  (It's also less likely to get you a scandalized look at a party.)  Architects design the framework and structure.  Gardeners plant idea seeds and see what grows.

Now all this creates a dichotomy that's a little misleading.  A lot of writers are somewhere in between, use different methods for different projects, or have shifted from one to the other over the course of their career.  There's no ongoing rivalry between the two philosophies, though some books on writing would give you that impression.  Since, obviously, it's much easier to write a book about planning than a book about winging it, you see more of them, and some of them do take potshots at the other style.

In any case, I've been studying for the CSW - Certified Specialist of Wine - so I've had wine on the brain, from grape varieties to terroir.  And it occurred to me:  between Architects and Gardeners, I'm a Viticulturist.

Before the vine ever blossoms, I'm pruning unnecessary foliage and spacing out canes for the best possible growth pattern.  The remaining vine structure is trained along wires - call those my overall sense of plot, the characters involved, the invisible support of the main idea.  And then allowed to blossom ... mostly.

Because as much as the grapes grow naturally, they receive constant, watchful eyes making sure that their growth doesn't get out of control and that they are protected from the extremes of weather and from pests.  As a writer, I am pathologically incapable of just barreling on and leaving a scene "not quite right."  I can't use placeholder words or names, marking them to fill in later.  If I realize I need to revise something to make a later scene click better, I'm flipping back to do so right away.

What's one of the most important decisions a winemaker has to make?  The timing of harvest, because there's often a balance between peak sugar levels and physiological maturity.  In an ideal setting, these two elements happen at the same time, but shifts in weather (plot developments!) and other events can put them out of sync.  For me, ending a story is sometimes difficult, because I like to stop with some loose ends; that sense of, "Yes, but ..."  Just because the book ends, doesn't mean life does.

Then there's the process of turning grapes into wine, which I'll call the editing process.  Don't worry, I'm not going to belabor the metaphor any further at this point, other than to say that I'm an Old World winemaker:  my editing doesn't change the essential core of the story; the finished wine is an expression of the grapes and what the underlying terroir has to offer.

Oh, and a good story makes me a little tipsy.  There's that, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Song Styles

I've finally reached the climactic scene(s) in Surgeburnt, where the timelines come together and we finally learn what drove Maren to betray her team to save them ... at the same time that things come to a head in the present.  And it makes me think back to the first, abortive draft, and the original themesong I had selected for Maren.  It refers to her doomed romance with Archer ... but is the love we can't have the one that is right for us?

The lyrics also partly inspired that thread of betrayal the reader would only now be learning about ...

White Flag - Dido

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I've posted before about how I don't think I would do well as a YA writer, for various reasons.  Two reasons that stand out are these.  One, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through highschool graduation, so I lack that very common school experience that informs a lot of contemporary-based YA, and even some non-contemporary "magic school" YA.  Two, YA was much more scarce when I was that age.  There weren't many books in the genre to read.  As a reader, I skipped past much of it and went straight to "adult" books.

Reading recent posts about YA, it's occurred to me that these two reasons are connected.  People have cited how much they struggled to find books where could see themselves in the protagonists.  This is, they claim, one of the best things about the current surge of YA for young readers.

I don't ever really recall having trouble finding characters to identify with, though I do remember being irked at the paucity of female characters at times.  (That's a whole different post, and one I believe I've written, but I was always of, "Fiiiine, you writers are poopooheads and I'll write the girl heroes" mindset.)  Those tropes of growing up and finding your identity aren't limited to YA characters.  The characters tend to be younger, true, but what else is a midlife crisis?  In my own writing, Anaea in Scylla and Charybdis is very much on a journey of finding herself, but at 19, she's a bit past the usual age of a YA character.  Kit from Flow is only fifteen, but outside the supernatural aspects of her life, she's pretty grounded in who she is.

One of the aspects of being homeschooled is your social circle, while it may be smaller, larger or equivalent to that of someone in conventional school, is almost never composed primarily of your age peers.  I had some friends my age, but I also had younger friends - I had a lovely friendship with my neighbor's daughter, who I tutored in math later on - and I had a number of adult friends.  One of the best things about volunteering at the Cincinnati Museum Center was even during the school year, I had weekday hours, so I got to hang out with the adult volunteers.

Which leads me to the theory that part of the reason I didn't desperately want/need more YA is the fact that I didn't necessarily need a character to be my age to identify with them.  I just wasn't trained into that sense of peer grouping.

Interestingly, this even continued in college:  when I attended culinary school, there was a range of ages.  I was right in the middle, between teenagers who had just graduated highschool, mid-career culinarians going back to school to build their resume, and second career or retiree students.  And again ... I hung out a lot with the latter.  One memory that sticks out is when a fellow student, retired from the flavor industry (the industry that creates artificial flavorings), put on his music and Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby" came on.

Me:  "Oh, I love this song."

Other student:  "What *is* this song?"

And the pair of us (retiree and I) proceeded to riff about the plotline.

Now I'm working in a job where I'm the oldest person by several years ... no big deal.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Song Styles

Lindsey is about to depart from the usual character themesong focus of this post and discuss a musical album - so if that's not to your taste, exit now, but I will tell you it has a very fantasy vibe, even though it has no specific speculative content.

I'm speaking of Aurora's All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend.  I first encountered Aurora through the television show "Good Behavior," which used Running With The Wolves in the close of an episode.  The song mesmerized me enough to look her up, and I ordered the album ... but on the advice of those who had purchased the digital album, I ordered the deluxe version, which wasn't available on CD yet (and still isn't) ... and forgot about it.

(Sidebar:  I say that there's no speculative content to the music, but on my first viewing of the music video above, that very theatric and peculiar mini story definitely has dystopian / fantasy elements.  So I think it's fair to say that there's a very dark, mythical, fantastic bent to her style.)

Quite a while later, I realized that the CD was still pending on Amazon, and I was still also very interested in the music, so I bit the bullet, canceled my order, and bought the digital version of the deluxe album.

Aurora's music is generally dark and moody, slower in tempo, though with a few exceptions, such as Conqueror.  (Here's another one where the music video is purely fantastical.)  Some of the songs blur together, and because of the overall musical pace, it's somewhat monotonous to listen to the album as a whole ... but individually, most have a lot to offer.  I'm a bit obsessed with her Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1), which is faster tempo and a perfect blend of mood with atmospherics.

As far as the deluxe version goes, it's a mixed bag.  There's a cover of the ubiquitous Nature Boy.  I found Wisdom Cries actively painful to listen to, but Half The World Away is lovely.  The best parts of the deluxe edition, in fact, are the two alternate versions of Running With The Wolves and Murder Song, which take opposite tactics.  Running With The Wolves takes the musical themes and multiplies them in mesmerizing repetition.  Murder Song strips out the atmosphere and lets the song stand on its own.

Recommended, but the deluxe version is optional.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Guest post: Part-time Human

I'm over at Part-time Human (yeah, that has to be one of the best blog titles ever) talking about Scylla and Charybdis (of course) and life as a creative (complicated, but funny):

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A recent Facebook post reminded me of the old days of fandom roleplaying and fan fiction, when everyone had to post prominent legal disclaimers to avoid being sued by a favorite author, and even that didn't prevent threats and harassment.  As a writer myself, it's not hard to understand the kneejerk reaction:  these people are stealing the work I spent years developing, then years more jumping through the hoops of publishers and agents ... but the majority of these fandom folk were simply expressing their joy and devotion, not claiming the author's words as their own.

Over time, the attitude towards fandom softened, but it is still ridiculed, derided and given side-eye by many.  I missed many of the horror stories, but I was present for the Anne McCaffrey's "Renewable Airforce" drama, when she set down the sexual orientations for the riders of the various colors.  Within her rights to do so, perhaps:  at the time, it was unequivocally "her world, her rules."  Some will argue that since it couldn't be interpreted from the books themselves, fans were free to interpret as they would, as long as they didn't claim it was her stance.  Regardless, a lot of the fandom games I played in scrambled, rewriting old characters and old plots, sometimes scrapping them entirely, to retroactively work with these rules.

On a lighter note, I'm put in mind of stories of fanfiction writers who had written Luke / Leia romance stories after the first Star Wars movie, and then the frantic scrambling at the revelations later.  I've heard there's even an official novelization that at least hinted at a romance there.

A small group of friends and I approached Gayle Greeno, writer of the Ghatti books - telepathic cat companions - to ask if we could create a small fandom game in her setting.  She was confused and a bit tentative about the idea, but approved it.  Nowadays, it's hard to imagine any author not being familiar with the concept.  So of course, especially since I had my own fandom days, I turned it over myself.

When I roleplayed in fandom, it was always in the author's world, but not with his / her characters.  Either the fandom was set in a different time era - long before or long after the author's characters lived - or sometimes in an alternate reality, where they never existed.  As much as author-insert characters get a bad rap (look up "Mary Sue" sometime), I think everyone put some aspect(s) of themselves into their roleplaying characters.  In a world that wasn't ours, that person or people we portrayed was our gateway, our own private vehicle.

For me, my characters were very personal.  Sometimes, people would ask friends to "puppet" (temporarily portray) their character for live online events they couldn't make.  I could never make myself do this, and I pretty much panicked the few times I was asked.  I couldn't possibly.  Those were their characters.  That went doubly for the author's characters.

So when it comes to the possibility of fandom set in one of my books, I think my reaction would be that I'd be honored that anyone enjoyed my settings enough to spend time in them - as long as, of course, they're not making profit off it.  I don't even think I would mind if they were doing unconventional things with the setting.  But when it comes to the characters, I'm highly uncomfortable about the idea of someone else writing them.  It feels a bit like a violation of privacy.  I would never harass, threaten or pursue legal action, but I hope that readers would respect this; or if they chose not to, that they would keep their writings private or for select friends, where I couldn't happen across them accidentally.

So maybe this seems unfair of me or high-handed, but it's my gut feeling, and I can't really alter that sense of wrongness.  I'm certainly not a hypocrite; I would never write another author's characters, and I feel that's as polite as not letting myself into their houses, even if all I'm going to do is admire the wallpaper.  And I would humbly hope that, if readers knew my stance on this, that would grant me the same courtesy.  That's all I can ask.

GoodReads Review: The Man Who Tasted Shapes - Richard E. Cytowic

The Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the wide range of this book, from the prevailing attitudes of medicine and neuroscience to the well-described details of how to hypothesize and conduct experiments on synesthesia. However, this is not a book about synesthesia, at least not in its entirety. For that, try Cytowic's "Wednesday Is Indigo Blue." This is a much broader book about the functions of the brain, perception, and in the final sections, consciousness, metaphor, and even spirituality. It's an interesting exploration of ideas.

View all my reviews

(Included here for general writer / creative interest.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Song Styles

Happy Mother's Days to all the moms out there, whether your children be human, four-legged, biological, adopted, or a spark of hope for the future.

Here's a song that I always associate with mothers, even though I don't believe it's explicitly mentioned in the lyrics:

Roots and Wings - Anne Murray

Grimbold Interview!

My Grimbold Books interview is up on the Jackson Tango today.  Check it out:

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

So just for fun, here's a little peek into the circuitous methods my brain undergoes while coming up with a story idea I want to write.  Mind that this one isn't complete; I haven't sketched out the plot yet, which I do for short stories so they don't run ridiculously long.  Sometimes they do that anyway:  see "She Loves Me Not," based on the fairytale "The Flower Queen's Daughter," which clocked in at a little over 11,000 words.  But having an overall shape for a story at least somewhat keeps my novelist tendencies in check.

In any case, one of the random story prompts I've had floating around is to take the letters on license plates and turn them into acronyms.  On Monday, I picked up the following trio:


I decided that HBU = Here Be Underlings, and EQE = Elemental Queen Elegies.  So I had this image of a group of servants who were trying to deal with an overly dramatic queen in mourning.  Magical grieving, perhaps, hence the elemental?  I did fool around with the acronym a bit before deciding on that form.

But still not a complete concept, or at least not one that interested my brain enough to stick.  So I hunted for another license plate:


All right, to me, YLL = Young Lions Legion (or League).  I wanted some connotation to the use of lions that wasn't necessarily the obvious:  fierce, brave, etc.  All right ... so why young?  My original thought was that young male lions get kicked out of the pride by the alpha male, so "young lions" would be without mates - pure, in other words.  Now, I just looked this up, and it turns out lions don't actually do this, but I may go with it as the denizens of a fantasy society don't know any better ... or I'll change the animal of the acronym, since the point is the inspiration, not slavish dedication to its source.

In any case, I decide the YLL is a mixed gender military company that derives some kind of power from abstaining from sex.  And yes, mixed gender, which means that this abstinence is a bit tricky to maintain ... and this starts to suggest a character.

Still not a story.  One of the best techniques for coming up a story is to throw two disparate ideas together, so I decided to randomly select an exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany (Brian Kiteley).  I don't think I've raved about this book recently.  It is probably the best writing exercise book I've seen, and best of all, it works for a fantasy writer.  My problem with a lot of exercise books is they presume a mainstream setting, and/or the exercise requires modification / contortion to write SF/F ... this one wasn't intended for SF/F writing, but most of the exercises are broadly applicable.

The first exercise I chose was to write a story based off a sporting event, where the result is life or death.  Nothing wrong with this, but it just didn't inspire me, so I moved on.  A couple inappropriate results, and then I ended up with:  "Write a story in which, during several conversations, two people create a fictional character."

That.  Lightbulb.  I can see a plot where two people, one of them a member of the perhaps-to-be-renamed YLL, the other a palace servant, try frantically to "cover" for their queen to a visiting dignitary by inventing a third party responsible for her distraction.  A conclusion suggests itself (which I'm not going to spoil by sharing).  A vague arc is implied within these multiple connotations.  And I still don't know the details of this fiction-within-a-fiction, but this, to me, is a rounded idea that just needs fleshing out.  I've already got some flashes of worldbuilding and character, a conflict, a goal, a direction for solution ...

It's game time.  No, I discarded that part.

Maybe ...

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Song Styles

Last snippet from my Scylla and Charybdis playlist for now, also from the inimitable Kirsty MacColl.  This is a general feel and theme song, and while it may not match in details, I thought it was fitting for a society in the wake of a great disaster, still paying for the mistakes of the past, and still fighting battles - metaphorical and literal.

Children Of The Revolution - Kirsty MacColl

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings: Hiraeth

Obviously, Scylla and Charybdis is full of exotic names and words, from planets and cities – though many of those are based in Earth mythology – to technological devices and the mysterious alien Derithe.  But there is one term in particular that comes from our world and runs through the novel:  hiraeth.

Hiraeth is a Welsh Gaelic word that means homesickness, nostalgia, home longing – the grief of a place or person lost.  It’s not a term that is precisely translatable, but it is very Celtic, recognizable in the sensibilities of Scottish and Irish music (hey, I’m a musician) as well as the Welsh.  There’s a bit of an illusion to it:  maybe the thing you’re longing for never existed, at least not the way you remember it.

(A joke I like to use in setlists involves the Irish tune Southwind, a lovely ballad where the singer, lonely for home, asks the winds to carry his words back to those who live there.  Except … it’s probable he wasn’t more than ten miles from home at the time the song was written …)

Gwydion introduces Anaea to the word early in the novel.  At the time, it doesn't mean much to her:  she's too focused on the larger universe to think about missing home.  As her journey continues, and the universe challenges her at every turn, she begins to identify with hiraeth and what it means ... but where is home?  And was it ever the way she imagined?

The way hiraeth came into the novel was due to a series of unrelated choices.  The original short story on which the novel is based had only one named male character:  Gwydion.  I had already decided to name the denizens of the female-only space station after Amazons in Greek mythology, so it seemed appropriate to give Anaea's counterpart a name from a different mythos.  I've loved Welsh mythology from a young age - in fact, the first fantasy novels I read, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, are strongly based in it.

Hiraeth wasn't in the first draft of the novel, either.  What was in the first draft was a lengthy word game sequence, which I talk about in more length in my post on Sarah Jane Higbee's blog.  Anaea needed an alias to play, and I wanted one that had resonance.  I chose the word hiraeth for that reason, and then had to go back and introduce it into the narrative.  The word game ended up being removed - it was (fittingly) too many words with too little relevance - but hiraeth stayed.

And it's a fitting place to end my formal "tour" of the virtual realm, though I've still got a few extra stops to make and a guest to welcome.  In the end, we hope to return home.