Sunday, September 30, 2018

Song Styles

It's that time of year.  You're seeing it in stores, even though Halloween hasn't even hit yet and the temperatures (at least around here) are still in the 70s.

I'm talking about ... the Christmas season.

Deep, mournful sigh.

I have a wedding I'm playing harp for next weekend, but after that, it's time to get out my Christmas music list.  Yes, really.  A few of the tunes are obscure and I play them all year round because no one would recognize them as holiday, but most are distinctly seasonal, so I haven't touched them in months.  With a forty-plus tune repertoire, ranging from ancient carols to traditional favorites to Celtic off-shoots to contemporary merriment and even a Hanukkah tune, and considering that Christmas-themed parties start right after Thanksgiving, I need the time to dust off and review my holiday music.

I probably won't be adding new tunes this year, not so much because of time allowances - though there isn't much of that - as because I've currently hit the limit of repertoire that is a) recognizable; b) I enjoy musically; and c) is playable on the harp.  (For instance, I love the Charlie Brown Christmas song, but the accidentals and chord progress make it impossible on a lever harp.)  I can also easily get through a 2-3 hour set, so there's no practical reason to add more.

Not that that ever stops me if I run into a song I want to play ...

What are your favorite Christmas tunes?  Obscure or familiar, new favorites or centuries old?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Yesterday, I opened a new document and jotted down this:

                I may not howl at the moon or be stopped in my tracks by a line of salt, but the liminal is an inescapable part of my life.  I’m a Sniffer, which means I can detect the earthy loam of a dryad or the formaldehyde tang of a vampire.  It also gives me an edge in my mundane job:  I can detect the “tar and roses” of Nebbiolo from across the room, and at closer ranges, separate the green apple and melon of Chardonnay versus Chenin Blanc – the wet wool of the latter is a dead giveaway.  My two worlds cross a lot, because Old World liminus love their Old World wine … and if you had a magical affliction, wouldn’t you drink?
                The Old World versus New World divide that runs through the wine realm – tradition versus innovation; subtlety versus the punch of fruit; pride of place versus showcasing fruit – has its parallels in the liminal world.  Vampires with pedigree back to the Roman era often look down their noses at technomages and even Mayan alux, who pre-date a lot of European fairies.  Most of the less traditional liminus don’t stand on or respect their ceremony, but sometimes they come into the shop like nouveau riche, insisting on a bottle of Chablis.  I always feel like standing them in front of a map and asking them to pinpoint the region.  (Closer to Champagne than its parent region of Burgundy, for the record.)

No, it's not the beginning of a new novel - it's much too "telly" for that, not to mention that nothing has actually happened in a little shy of 250 words.  Instead, it's a loose narrative I'm using to help myself in my wine studies.  By putting down facts in my own words and building a story around it, I'm hoping to enhance my memory.  But the fact that I'm not trying to make something sale-worthy / viable means that I can jump around and focus on the topics that are giving me trouble.

All that said, there's still some worldbuilding implicit in the paragraphs above, because of course.  I'm getting bored with everything in contemporary fantasy being "the supernatural," so I've used the term liminal here - essentially, "on the threshold," which is also used in magical context / spaces.  So a magical being is a "liminus," and I spent a good twenty minutes flailing around the internet trying to determine if that was an appropriate cognate before I gave up and went with it.

This may end up sparking a short story or two, but that would be a bonus, not the goal.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Song Styles

Driving in my car a few days ago, listening to my most recent word association CD - see a few posts down - it occurred to me that one of the songs was an excellent fit for one of my male characters, directed towards my female lead.  His perspective may not be accurate, but Maren has definitely cut him deep:

Congratulations - Rachel Platten

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

People recognize that red and blue make purple (unless they're colorblind or just plain stubborn), but not everyone realizes that scents can combine to make other scents.  Here's an easy example:  yesterday, I was making cinnamon french toast casserole and, at the same time, rehydrating raisins on the stove.  I paused, because it smelled exactly like Sun Maid Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  

But it's more complex than that.  Occasionally, I've stepped into the walk-in fridge and smelled something completely different, something for which we don't even have the ingredients.  The combination of other dishes cooling creates the perception of a third, unrelated scent.

There's science behind this.  The chemical diacetyl is present in butter, and shows up in wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation.  It's responsible for that buttery taste in Chardonnay, but there isn't actual butter involved, just the same volatile chemical interacting with retronasal sensors.  (Most of what we consider "taste" is actually smell that occurs within the mouth.  The tastebuds can only perceive tactile sensations and the basic tastes:  sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.)

I've recently become aware that I have a much keener sense of smell than I'd ever thought.  This is especially weird because growing up (and still), I had miserable allergies.  I was used to being stuffed up and not relying on my nose.  In fact, I still breathe solely through my mouth.  (Yep ... I'm a mouth-breather.)  So I'm used to thinking that I had a subpar sense of smell.  Maybe it's that I concentrate on it more than most people; maybe it's that I appreciate it more.  It might even be connected to my writing:  I've always tried to include smell, taste and touch in my descriptions, so I'm used to pinpointing and labeling.

However it comes about, I do notice the interaction of smells.  I haven't yet picked out a pattern as to what combinations create what results ... after all, the human nose can pick out 10,000 scents (at least), which makes millions of potential blends.  An olfactory rainbow waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Song Styles

I'm on my final editing pass for Unnatural Causes.  This is a targeted pass, to smooth out the additions from the previous pass and to cut unnecessary fat.  Since the novel is at 98,000 words and a bit of change, I'm in a different position than I usually am:  rather than looking for what I can cut that won't hurt the story,  I'm looking for what I can cut that will help the story.

So in honor of that, here's (one of) the quirky song(s) that I put down as a themesong for my narrator, Vil.  It's inside out and topsy-turvy, much like Vil herself even before the chaotic events of the novel:

Anywhere Is - Enya

This music video also gets thumbs up from me for actually connecting to the music.  Nothing drives me more nuts when the music tells one story and the video another ...

Well, all right.  People who say things happen "on accident" drive me more nuts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Between the chaos of my daily life, I've been working on the worldbuilding for my next novel project.  It's coming together somewhat differently from my usual process, and I hope the changes will pay off.

I typically do a few short sections on global elements - cosmology, world history, magic system, general geography - and then focus on the specific individual countries about which I'm writing.  Elements may bleed over from country to country, or I may deliberately set up contrast between them.

With this project, I'm spending a lot more time on the global ... but rather than precise definitions, I've included scope, variance, and tendencies - a broader approach that gives me a framework upon which to hang individual regions (and individuals).  My hope is that the end result will be more granular, less neatly defined, and that when I get down to specific countries and cities, I'll have a clearer sense of how they fit into the world as a whole.

In particular, rather than simply saying "this is what religious people believe," (as if one global religion is realistic!) I've created a quartet of deities who manifest in different ways.  Some denominations may revere all four; others may believe in the existence of only a single deity; still others might believe in two, but consider them "good" and "evil."

It's a lot more work, but a) I think it will go quicker when I get down to the specifics, since I won't be creating so much wholecloth; and b) ... let's face it, I'm obsessed with worldbuilding and I would cheerfully spend all my time doing it anyway.

Another change to the way I usually do things is I don't have a mental outline for what sections I need.  I'm writing sections as they occur to me.  For instance, I just realized that I wanted to go back and talk about holidays.  Now, this is a general / global discussion; individual countries might have their own days of celebration ...

I'm also running into the weird issue that the word "chimpanzee" feels irredeemably modern and I'm not sure how to handle referencing such a creature, but that's another story.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Anatomy of an Idea: Soul Medley

As I mentioned in my previous post, Soul Medley is now out in Andromeda Spaceways #72.  I discuss briefly the origins of the story, but here's a more detailed account ... spoiler free, if you haven't read it yet, though I do encourage you to do so!

Soul Medley started in response to a monthly challenge prompt at  The prompt was to write a story about / involving music.  I decided to build a story around the repertoire of famed blind Irish traditional harper Turlough O'Carolan.  He's easily the most prolific composer in the traditional repertoire, responsible for a few hundred tunes.  Now, I'm not a huge O'Carolan fan; like many artists who churn out works, a lot of them start to sound the same.  But he does have a few gorgeous tunes.

One of the most unusual is Eleanor Plunkett.  There are two stories around Eleanor Plunkett, one about the namesake, one about the tune.  (You may sometimes see it referred to as Planxty Eleanor Plunkett, a planxty being a tune written in honor of a person.  Many of O'Carolan's tunes are planxties, whether referred to by that name or not.)  Eleanor Plunkett, the person, was allegedly the only survivor of her family, who shut themselves up in their castle and drowned in boiling water (?!).  Probably historical exaggeration of some sort, but that Eleanor was the last of the Plunketts is not in doubt.

Legend has it that O'Carolan was playing the first part of Eleanor Plunkett, the tune, when a bystander commented that he'd heard another song just like it.  O'Carolan was so incensed he stopped right there and never finished writing it.

So that takes care of the inspiration for my main characters.  For my antagonist, I decided to reference another traditional harper:  Rory Dall O'Cathain, also a blind harper of Irish / Scottish background (both cultures claim him) who pre-dates O'Carolan.

Throughout the story, there are references to other O'Carolan tunes, such as Sheebeg and Sheemore (the Anglicized translation of the Irish title), which refers to a battle between the fairies over two hills:  the big hill and little hill.  And I tried to make the journey through the underworld feel like a classic tale of the fairy, while still having its own unique qualities.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

ASM #72 Now Available!

It's out!  Check out Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #72 with my story, "Soul Medley" ... here!

Watch this space for a discussion of how this story came to be.  Or don't.  ;)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Last week, I discussed the CW's fantasy series, The Outpost.  This week, I'd like to talk about one of television science fiction offerings, Salvation.

Or ... is it?  During the first season, I posted about Salvation's exploration of coming-apocalypse movie tropes - it's almost a love letter to that particular subgenre - and how it took the familiar and explored them more deeply, an opportunity presented by the longer format.

In season two, the difficulties of writing an extended storyline that centers around a world-ending asteroid begin to manifest themselves.  There's only so many scientific barriers to place between the main characters and the solution before it either strains credulity or bores the viewer with technobabble.  There's also only so many other kinds of complications before it is no longer a story about impending collision and instead becomes a story about all the ways people can be terrible to each other.  Salvation does a decent job of this, but it's the places where the broader plotline strays from this central plot problem that are the weakest.

Among those, Salvation falls back on a familiar trope of spy / thriller shows:  the shadowy cabal that manipulates governments and decides the fate of nations.  I'm not sure how plausible such an organization really is, if it could really exist without being discovered.  In fact, I might be tempted to say that such a cabal actually belongs in fantasy, not reality.

Then again, how much of the science in Salvation is near-future science fiction, how much is currently in our grasp, and how much is pure fantasy?  I don't know enough about technology to answer that question.  For the matter of that, how many purely "real" shows indulge in technological solutions that don't yet exist?  Fudge the details of a drug?  Even grounded politics-based shows like Madam Secretary use invented countries to avoid insulting real nations, create tension that wouldn't be possible with a real place, or create parallels comfortably removed from our reality.

What about those cop shows where a single forensics expert does the work of six, so the viewer doesn't have to remember six people?  Or, as my mother is fond of pointing out, the attire that no real cop / attorney / businessperson would be allowed to wear to work?  Ultimately, every work of fiction is a fantasy, a reality that doesn't quite mesh with our own; that makes assumptions about the world which may or may not be accurate; that changes the rules to make for the best story.

So when it comes to defining genre lines, there's a lot to be said for that old saw about pornography:  you can't define it, but you know it when you see it.  It's a lot about overall feel.  Salvation feels like science fiction to me, so I choose to call it that.  If you chant a spell to become invisible, it's fantasy; if you press a button on a gadget, it's science fiction.  There was a time (I'm not sure if it's true any more) where scientists were certain that time travel was impossible, so any story that contained it was necessarily fantasy ... but time travel is so ingrained in our concept of science fiction that it continued to be classified that way.  Handwaving a memory-wiping drug in an otherwise non-fantastical thriller is fine, as long as it's plausible.

For a show that does an excellent job of keeping the viewer guessing about the paranormal - is this fantasy?  Is there a rational explanation?  Is what the characters believe more important than what's really going on? - check out Fortitude.  And expect things to get progressively weirder ... 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Song Styles

Another few months, another set of CDs and music to accompany me upon my travels through the strange lands of the midwest.  Besides the themed sets, I enjoy doing word association, where song titles string one into the next through linked words, concepts, and occasionally shameless punnery.  This is my most recent set of songs:

A Hundred Wishes - Loreena McKennitt
1000 Miles Away - Carrie Newcomer
Many The Miles - Sara Bareilles
Miles From Our Home - Cowboy Junkies
Feels Like Home - Chantal Kreviazuk
Are You Home - Broods
Walking Home - Metisse
Take Me Home - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
House - Sahlene
Cigarettes and Housework - Rachel Fuller
Smoke - Natalie Imbruglia
Skies on Fire - The Green Children
World on Fire - Sarah McLachlan
Weight of the World - Chantal Kreviazuk
Heavy - Dreamgirls soundtrack
Heavy Metal Lover - Lady Gaga
Circle of Stone - Laura Powers
Circle - Sarah McLachlan
Never Ending Circles - Chvrches
Loose Ends - Imogen Heap
Let It Loose - Gloria Estefan
Break Free - Colbie Caillat
Breakout - Ronan Hardiman
Prisoner - Mariah Carey
Prisoner of Love - Miami Sound Machine
Hearts Without Chains - Ellie Goulding
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken - P!nk
All The King's Horses - Joss Stone
Poem to a Horse - Shakira
My Song - Alessia Cara
Love Song - Sara Bareilles
Sarah's Song - Sissel
Good Old Song - Anne Murray
The Old Fashioned Way - Helen Reddy
Ages Past, Ages Hence - Loreena McKennitt
Dear Future Husband - Meghan Trainor
Marry Me - Martin McBride
I Do - Idina Menzel
Congratulations - Rachel Platten
Thank You - Celine Dion
Thank U - Alanis Morissette

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Story Sale!

The Colored Lens just accepted my story "Canvas Captured" for their fall issue!  Watch this space for details and suchnot.