New website is under construction.

Mar 31, 2009

New Blog Header

As you can see, I'm trying out a new header. I'm not sure it fits well with the rest of the blog's look, but I'll let it ride for a few days and see if it grows on me. I might try something else. Who knows.

I'm going light on blogging right now because I'm knee deep in research for my Secret Novel.

Also Available in Puppy

Silly You Tube vid of the day.

Kindle is Cheaper Than a Newspaper

Apparently, "it costs the Times about twice as much money to print and deliver the newspaper over a year as it would cost to send each of its subscribers a brand new Amazon Kindle instead."

Mar 30, 2009

Cover Art for Hound in Blood and Black

My friend the Screaming Guppy has written a totally badass zombie story. It's got all the rampaging undead fun you would expect, plus a cool twist which sets it apart from what's been done. I did two mock covers. One attempts to show a scene in an arena built over the ocean, where sharks swim, waiting to devour the losers. I didn't really capture it, so I tried another cover, this time simply going for something creepy and zombiesque.

First Person, Third Person, Omniscient

I'm trying to decide the proper Point of View for my new novel.

This isn't the most urgent question. I still have a ton of research to do before I can commit to more than jotting down notes and hypothetical scenes. I have my Short Outline for the novel. If I wrote out a few hypothetical scenes, I could always change the Person they're in later. (That sounds so odd to say, "the Person they're in" but how else would you say it?)

There are pros and cons for each Person. The question is which will best tell this particular story?

Third Person: Third ("he said, she said") is standard and also my usual favorite. I like to have a lot of PoV characters, which rules out First. Third Person is the most flexible, and at the same time, the least obtrusive. In all probability, I will write the novel in third, unless another Person offers something to the story which third cannot. 

Omniscient: Omniscient ("he thought, she thought") used to be standard, but nowadays is frowned upon. There are advantages, however, which, in my opinion, still make this Person worth considering. An omniscient narrator can peer into the thoughts and backgrounds of any character in the story, not just the PoV character or MCs. When you have many bit parts who cannot be PoV characters, but whom you would like to reveal briefly to your reader, omni is the way to go. 

One example of a master at this is Kurt Vonnegut. He will unabashedly take a paragraph to tell you the life history of the gas station attendant washing the windows of the MCs car, even though the attendant has no other role in the story. Vonnegut's point is, "this is a person too, and don't think he doesn't have his own story even if it's not this story." A movie which attempted to do the same thing was Run, Lola, Run.

First Person: First ("I thought he said") is popular among new novelists, who over-identify with their MCs. However, it is also used by master artists, sometimes to deceive the reader with an untrustworthy narrator, other times simply to allow a degree of intimacy with the MC not possible with other methods. First person doesn't allow peeks into other heads, though a narrator may speculate about what other people are thinking. Untrustworthy narrators often tell you -- confidently -- what other people are thinking, but their speculations may be at odds with their observations, for example, in Lolita. I'm not interested in exploring untrustworthy narrators in this particular story.

Since I have four PoV characters, first person would seem to be out of bounds in any case. First limits you to one narrator, right?

Well, not necessarily. It's tricky to pull off, but one can have multiple first person narrators. Two famous examples are the noir mystery novel Laura and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

Right now, I admit, I'm toying with doing multiple first person. I wrote several hypothetical scenes, and third person felt too distant. I loved the intimacy of first. Maybe it felt right because much of my research material is witness depositions and autobiographies, all first person. First person transforms the story from mere narration to testimony. First person also allows my characters to declare their philosophical beliefs, which are not necessarily my own -- or shared by the other characters. Stacking the different first person accounts side by side will allow the reader to see how the characters differ, not just in their experiences, but in their philosophies.

The downside is the danger of confusing the reader. If one changes PoVs, and this is announced by a new name, "Johnny wondered..." "Janey decided..." the reader can make the leap easily. If the reader has only "I wondered..." "I decided..." to go on, it might be more confusing. Of course, I would try to make things clear by writing, "Johnny, London, 1987"  on top of each new section when there is a PoV change, but in my experience, some readers will still flounder.

* * *

For now, I'll write my draft scenes in first. It if doesn't work, I'll change them later.

Do you have a favorite? Do you always write in first or in third? If you switch, how do you determine which Person is best for which story?

* * *

The artwork is from Digital Expressions, and can be found here, along with a lot of other lovely fractals.

Mar 29, 2009

That's Just Precious

"Don't forget folks, this production is just an unofficial home movie, made by a bunch of Tolkien enthusiasts for love of the material. The budget has been scraped together by ourselves, nobody was paid and no money will be made from it. So yep it's purely our way to express our tribute to this magical world. It's exciting that so many other fans like us have posted supporting words on our guestbook. Thank you all for your kind comments and support! The editing of the film will take a lot of work but we hope to put it online in early 2009."

It really says something when the quality of your "unofficial home movie" is so blow-me-over awesome you have to keep reminding people of the fact. And it really is just that awesome. At least the trailer is. Check it out.

Please, please, do the Simirillian!

Mar 27, 2009

Short Outline, Long Outline, Draft

My outlining will probably go through three stages.

(1) Short Outline -  basic story arc of the book

(2) Long Outline - list of scenes, with conflict-response for each scene

(3) Outline Draft - technically, a first draft, but so awful I can't stand to call it a draft, so I pretend it's just a really long outline

* * *

I think of the Short Outline as the infrastructure of my book. Here I decide the word count I'm aiming at, the number of chapters and the approximate number of words per chapter. I decide how many PoV characters there will be, and how many storylines. Although it will give me tremendous grief at some point in the writing of the novel, I stick to this infrastructure like a underground splinter cult fanatic clings to an uzi.

My word count, however, often suffers from bloat, perhaps brought on by adverb retention, but often as a result of overindulging in subplots.

For this novel, I have a central image/metaphor of a well. I envision the still circle of water reflecting the sky. I have four PoV characters. I'm aiming at 80,000 words, on the theory that if I go over, I'll still be under 100,000 words. Since all the PoV characters have equal weight, this allows 20,000 words for each character. I will split the characters' sections in two. So the structure will look like this:


Wife sky reflecting on water.

I know. I spend way too much time entertaining myself with this stuff. Does this contribute to a better novel? I have no idea. It's like bloomers on a baby doll. These are parts which might not show, but making them is half the fun of dressing the doll.

I've already encountered the first problem this set up has caused me. I need to make sure the timeline fits the order of the PoV sections in my outline. At first I thought it would be easy, but that was because I had the wrong date for an (actual) historical event which appears in my novel. 


I may have to shuffle my characters' sections around a bit.

* * *

The picture shows a craftsman cutting down the outline of a carving.

The Future of Books

Fiction Matters sums up my suspicions about the future of tree books after ebooks become the norm. Tree books will remain, but they will be expensive, high quality objects d'art, mainly for collectors and book lovers. The analogy is to records.

Mar 26, 2009


Research -- and its counterpart, worldbuilding -- used to be my greatest joy in writing. Recently, I often feel so pressured to add beans to the wordcount, I don't feel I can afford to luxuriate in research as I used to.

The project I'm working on now is research-intensive. I thought I'd done most of the research already, working on a non-fiction piece.

However, as I've  started working on a detailed outline, I've realized the needs of non-fiction and fiction diverge greatly. For non-fiction, I mostly needed to know when, where and who. With those facts, I can speculate on why. For fiction I need to answer much more about how. How did it smell? How did it look? How did it taste? Only then can I speculate on how it felt.

My outline/draft so far is peppered with notes to myself: [NEED: description of a fishing ship] All of these notes are promises to myself to do research. 

Characters require research too. Names must fit the culture and period. Every character, even minor ones, needs a rough biography, and the major characters need a study with all their likes, dislikes, habits, childhood friends, mannerisms and so on. These character quirks cannot be simply drawn from my own circle of friends or my own imagination. Neither my personal experience nor my imagination is adequate to the task. I need to read real biographies, and draw inspiration from those. More research.

My husband points out I could research forever and never be satisfied. He may be right. But I've also found research to be the best antedote to writer's block. Sometimes, after deep reading of some fascinating culture, historical event or real person, I find myself so inspired I have to write down my own response, transformed into fiction.

How much research do you do in order to write your stories?

What's in a Pen Name?

An author by any other pen name would write as sweet. But she might not make as much money.

I have a confession. Tara Maya is a pen name. My real name has a lot of syllables. I decided ages ago -- in my year abroad in college, to be precise -- I needed a pen name. Mostly I was too shy to face the idea of anyone knowing I was an author, but partly I thought a nice, short name could be written in a larger font on a paperback. ;)

I'm over the shyness and who even knows if there will still be paperbacks by the time any of my writing sees print. Furthermore, I discovered the downside to a pen name. It isn't your real name. I know. Duh. But I wasn't thinking about the importance of social networking, or any other kind of marketing, back when I decided to start writing under a pseudonym. 

Why not just start using my real name? Well, for one thing, now I'm married, so that's changed anyway. Another thing, I've been participating in writer's groups, submitting to agents and have even been published under Tara Maya. To the extent anyone knows I exist as a writer at all, they know me as Tara Maya.

Oh, right, unless of course they know me by my other pen name. Yeah, I have two. I've published under that one too. I have a blog for the other pen name too, but I hardly ever write in it (what, hardly ever? well, never) because I prefer to write in this blog.

Therein lies the other big problem with pen names. The more you have, the more time you have to spend separately marketing each one. What a bother.

On to my question. Should I write my new book under a different name -- my real name, for instance?

I know, I know, I just said it was a bother to have more than one, so why would I want three?

One word: genre.

As Tara Maya, I write science fiction and fantasy. My other pen name writes steamy romance. The new book I'm working on isn't in either of those genres. It's a mainstream novel. Historical, I suppose, would be the closest genre, although this particular book only takes place about ten years ago.

Any thoughts?

(The art is by roz-red from deviant art.)

Mar 25, 2009

Mar 24, 2009


I have an idea.

I have ten thousand ideas for stories, in fact, which is why I love this lightbulb picture. There are many bulbs, but last night one in particular flared to life.

I needed to start a new novel, one from scratch (there's a reason, but I'll save that story for another time -- it's secret for now), so I trawled through my notebooks to revisit those dottings every writer has. You know the ones I mean, those odd wisps of inspiration which wake you up after a vivid dream of flying, or make you pull over the car on the freeway near the emergency call box, or have you ignoring everything your boss just said to you in the meeting because you had to write it down here, now on the notes to the power point presentation. I have a few of these every day. I've shared  a few. There are many, many more.

These dottings are like bottlecaps. One or two is never enough to send in for the prize. You have to keep collecting them. Some will never go anywhere except that cobweb space between the back of your couch and the wall, along with your Canadian penny and the left leg of a McDonald's Happy Meal toy.

Character. Setting. Plot. For an idea collection to add up to a real outline for a story, I need two of out three; I can then fill in the third. A truly, truly dazzling inspiration will be born, whole and complete, with all three.

My idea last night was truly, truly dazzling.

I wish I could share it with you. (I even designed a cover for it already.) But it's still too newborn. And I'm not sure I deserve it yet. As I said last night, I've had the inklings of this idea before -- I had a Setting -- but I felt inadequate to the task of writing it.

What changed last night? Very simply, I realized I knew the four characters who must be in the story. Once I knew the characters -- since I already had the setting -- I only needed a plot, which in turn, was obvious simply by drawing lines between the characters to connect them.

Do you believe there are Platonic Ideals of stories? Somewhere, somehow, there is the perfect version of your story; if you were only a good enough writer, you would be able to give the Platonic Form a Tangible Form. Though your version of the story would never be as beautiful as the Real story, it would at least reflect it, like water holds the moon.

your're commentz r whacked

Hey, You Tube Spammers,  you're commentz r whacked.

Mar 23, 2009

Parable of the Pedestal

I've done it again.

I've put my story on a pedestal. A shiny, glowy Roman column of a pedestal, representing the pinnacle of literary grace, depth and passion. A place quite out of reach for a writer of my meager talents.

My story is too good for me. I don't deserve it. I might as well give up on it now, because it's obvious I will never earn the right to even shine the boots of my story. My story contains a glimmer of the empyrean, it tinkles with chimes from the music of the spheres. I, on the other hand, am an eyeless, earless invertebrate lacking any capacity to translate the transcendent notes of my story into a form comprehensible to normal mortals. I suck.

There is a solution. I will wait to write this story until I have mastered a style which is more complex, more mature.

In the meantime, I will start another story, a B Class story, which is humbler, simpler, more appropriate for my lowly talents. I won't aim high with this story, I won't put Story B on a pedestal, I promise. I won't even try to have it published. I'll just write it for my own amusement, and for my own education. Story B will be my practice. It will train me to write Story A.

But Story B has hidden charms I didn't see at first. I was too shallow; Story B is exquisite. Story B deserves so much more than I realized. Story B should be polished and perfected, not simply shoved full of garbage and dumped at the curve like a plastic trash liner.

Story B deserves a pedestal too.

I can reach it. Just not yet. I'm not good enough.

Story C....

Roomba and Baby

Roomba. Meet Baby.

In case you haven't heard, a roomba is a robot vacuum and, apparently, a pram.

How B&N's Fourth Quarter Affects New Writers

Hat tip to author Maya Reynolds who highlighted the most interesting 400 words out of a much longer and more boring document, the Barnes & Noble, Inc. Q4 2008 Earnings Call Transcript. And I'm going to highlight just two points from what she posted.

I'll call it the Good News and the Bad News.

The Bad News: "The year 2008 was by far the most challenging retail environment we’ve ever experienced. In fact, it was the first year in which our comparable store sales declined every quarter."

So book sales in the stores are down. B&N has responded to this by controlling "store payroll", which, if I understand correctly means layoffs and closing stores. However, I can't but think it also would determine how many books they are willing to buy from publishers.

If bookstores buy less from publishers, publishers will buy less from agents, agents will accept fewer submissions from writers. But writers are not submitting less to agents. On the contrary, agents have been flooded with queries, and in some cases, the levees have broken.

The Good News: "We . . . plan to return to the business of offering customers digital content inclusive of eBooks, newspapers and magazines. We have a large number of assets in place to enable us to sell digital content, our ecommerce platform is solid . . . We operate a world class in-house service center and our recent acquisition of Fictionwise has enhanced our ability to conduct digital transactions."

So maybe bookstores will buy more ebooks from publishers, publishers will buy more from agents, and agents will accept more submissions from writers.

Mar 21, 2009

Why Authors Need Agents

Yesterday I highlighted a blog talking about why an author needs and editor, and today I happened across this delightful post/paeon to an agent by a fairly new talent Seanan McGuire, author of the upcoming urban fantasy Rosemary and Rue.
Almost two years ago, a friend of mine sent me a letter introducing me to another friend of hers, one who happened to be a literary agent. The Agent and I started chatting via email, taking it slowly, navigating the wilds of acquaintance and understanding long before we reached the point where representation would become an option. It was a courtship, rather than a barroom hookup, and I am incredibly grateful for that, because anybody who's met me knows that my full attention can be an exhausting thing. She gets my full attention a lot.

A year ago today, we stopped courting.

The past year has been an amazing ride of wonderful, dizzying, confusing things, and The Agent has been there every step along the way to explain, encourage, and assist. I call her my personal superhero for a reason -- that's exactly what she is. Books on writing will tell you that the best thing a working writer can have is a good agent, and they're right, but what they won't tell you is that it's even better to have a good agent who understand you, understands the way you work, and is willing to see what you can do together.
And if you haven't read it yet, be sure and check out Lisa and Laura's agent-finding story too, which happened just days ago.

The Hearts of Men Centuries Dead

"The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men's hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."

--Clarence Day, Jr.

(I snatched this quote from an agent's site, The Literary Group and the photo is by Dagny Willis, featuring ruins of a house in Alaska.)

Why Authors Need Editors

There's a fascinating discussion over on Elizabeth Bear's blog about whether an editor hones a writer's vision or crushes her unique genius into cookie cut dough. (And I literally mean vision because one of the issues is whether to include more visual description.) I was quite struck by something E Bear said in the comments:
A good editor is a professional whose skill involves bringing out the writer's truest voice. And the skill of a writer is not self-expression: that's a very high-school interpretation of art. Self-expression is the egotist's excuse.

Art is about communication; it's about evoking a response in the reader. Oftentimes, a writer is too close to her intention to see the real effect on someone else, because she can see what she intended.

If we were talking about the visual arts, it's the difference between a child's drawing and the landscape of a trained artist. A writer who has not learned to judge the effect of her words on an audience is making the equivalent of kid scribbles.

It's the difference between home movies and Citizen Kane.

Nobody cares about your vision if you don't have the chops to make the other guy see it. And that's a skill, a learned one. And one which a good editor helps a writer exercise, by showing her where she's failed to make the connection.

My editor for this book is a very good editor. She's up for a Hugo this year, for a reason: she's one of the best in the business.

I have a peculiarly wired brain: it interprets the world in manners somewhat different from most people's. Most of my work in becoming an artist has been the work of learning to translate between what I know about a story and what I need a reader to know about it. It's a crude and stopgap form of telepathy, but it's all we've got.

None of this, of course, makes it any more fun to hear that a book one has been working on since 2002 still needs significant revision, because it's not very good yet. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say it's heartbreaking, and ten years ago I would have been totally on board with the idea that My Native Genius Is Going Unrecognized.

But the fact of the matter is that that's self-indulgence, ego defense, and denial, and good art is not created by prima donna fits. It's created by sweat and failure and trying again and again to get it right.

But at least now I have somebody else helping me see ways to make it better.

You must not think that I take all of any editor's suggestions as gospel: I assess them all, using my own hard-earned critical skills, and I decide which ones will improve the book. And I have no qualms about saying no if I think an idea is dumb.

You decide what hills you're going to die on. And I've refused offers on books because I didn't agree with the editor's vision of what the book should be.
This is a potent reminder. Just because you become a multi-book selling author, it doesn't make writing come easily or automatically. It doesn't mean you no longer have to keep asking yourself the hard questions, like how much do you write to please others and how much do you trust your own vision? It doesn't mean you get a free pass from painful revisions.

There are published authors whose first book is fabulous, but who let their later books slide into stale formula. Other writers just seem to keep growing with each book. I know which kind of writer I aspire to be.


Thank you to Mossy Creek Designs (ban) for this poster!

Mar 20, 2009

Warning: You May Dream of This Video

“What you need to know is…that you are going to watch this video more times than you can imagine. You may dream of this video, but the dream won’t be as good because it won’t be this video.”

Behold! This video of fantasy cliches put to music looks like it escaped from 1986. The Taste Police from the future sent robots back in time to kill it before it was born but it stole their time travel guitar and came forward to 2009.

The review is as a funny as the video itself.

What if Your Story Were a Fairy-tail?

Scott Bailey asked on his blog today, "What is a story?"

Why do stories have a beginning, middle and end? Obviously, they start somewhere and end somewhere physically, textually or orally, but is that alone what gives us the urge to give a story form?

I have a talkative relative (let's call her a great aunt, like my MC's Great Aunt Sullana) who is always telling me about incidents, people, and events in her life. Never, however, does she arrange these into stories with clear beginnings, middles and ends. Instead, her chatter strings along a seemingly random assortment of sentences about a friend's gall bladder operation, a sock she lost, what she's reading, the weather on her drive to my house and instructions to her dog. You will wait in vain to hear about whether the operation went smoothly or where the sock was found or how any of these things relate to one another.

On the other hand, I knew a fisherman who, under the guise of chit-chat, would tell the most hilarious and fantastic stories, with a complete cast of characters, plot tension and twist ending. Though he never announced, "I'm going to tell a story," his stories had a clear beginning, "So this one time...", problem, bigger problem, even bigger problem, climax and conclusion. "...and I swore I'd never go fishing with him again. Nah, I did, but can you believe his balls?" Sometimes even a moral: "Man, if you're that drunk, vomit before you try to talk to the Coast Guard."

The structure of a story can be boiled down, like a fairy-tail, a joke or an SAT essay, to five paragraphs.

1. Once Upon a Time (Introduces Main Character and Setting)
2. The Problem (First Time is Coincidence)
3. The Bigger Problem (The Second Time is a Pattern)
4. The Biggest Problem (The Third Time's the Charm Which Breaks the Pattern)
5. Happily Ever After (Reward for the Good Character Or Moral Explaining Failure of the Wicked Character)

* * *

This is simple; I'm sure you've all seen something like this before. Why, however, do we crave fisherman stories with this explicit structure, above and beyond random great aunt tongue-wagging? In a sense, great aunt stories better reflect real life. Her words are verbalized stream of consciousness.

Indeed, one of the experiments of modern fiction (and I don't use Modern as a technical term, though I'm sure there is one; forgive my ignorance of lit crit) is to create fiction disguised as stream of consciousness. Fairy-tales make no bones about where they start, "Once upon a time..." Nineteenth Century novelists often felt obligated to start with plenty of backstory, "I was born..." or sometimes even, "My grandfather was born..." but this is frowned upon now. Contemporary novelists can't get away with three chapters of backstory.

Modern novelists like to pretend our stories start in the middle of things and end in the middle of things, as if we simply happened along somewhere, witnessed some random transactions, and then departed. In some genres, this impulse is stronger than others. Scott mentions he prefers "indeterminate endings." Literary fiction, which is most concerned, I believe, with mirroring "real life", is also most likely to disguise beginnings and endings as "unprivileged" moments in a long series of moments. A literary telling of St. George besting the dragon would not necessarily begin with George seeking out the dragon, or end with the dragon being slain. It might instead, start with a middle aged George drinking at the tavern with his buddies, talking about his exploit, trying to decide if he will go back home to his dingy hovel, wife and seven kids, or take off down the road to look for more dragons.

Of course, this is just frosted glass over the naked fairy tale, shattered as soon a you have to tell an agent, editor or consumer in a pitch why does this story matter? In my example, the point of the ending is George's uncertainty, the moral is about how aging action heroes may find nostalgia for action a constant strain on settling for a "normal" life. There is still a story, still a beginning, middle and end. So it is not really that ending is undetermined, but that indeterminacy is the ending. The moral at the end is that things never end easily wrapped up in bows.

A modern story may introduce a character already beset by problem, and show the world through the eyes of the character, but like a fairy-tale, must still introduce character and setting. The story may meander through the middle, but must, like a fairy-tale, still have conflict. The elements it introduces must not be lost socks. They must have a purpose.

In an earlier post, I looked at bad endings. LIsted #3 was "no actual resolution." A well-crafted story must resolve the questions raised in a plot, but it doesn't have to answeranswer them.

* * *

Here's a fun thing to try.

Suppose you were to re-write your story as a fairy-tale. What would it be? Who are the crucial characters, what are the crucial conflicts? Could you boil it down to five paragraphs? At least under two pages? It's kind of like trying to write a synopsis, except fun. I dare say, it's the more fun the further removed from being fairy-tail like your story is. My novel is based on a fairy-tail, so distilling it back to that form is interesting (I can see what I've changed more clearly) but probably not as amusing as if I tried to tell Gone With the Wind beginning, "Once upon a time..."

Abe Lincoln's Advice on Querying

Mar 19, 2009

Which SF&F Markets Publish the Most New Authors?

I've wondered it. You've wondered it. Or not. But now's your chance to wonder in case you haven't. Which SF&F markets publish the most new authors? (Hat tip to Cat Rambo, who also explains Why You're Always Being Rejected by Fantasy Magazine.) Here's her breakdown of the percent of fresh blood for each market:

F&SF: 3%
Analog: 5%
Asimov's: 20%
Baen's Universe: 21%
Intergalactic Medicine Show: 32%
Interzone: 40%
Realms of Fantasy: 51%
Clarkesworld: 61%
Strange Horizons: 68%
Weird Tales: 72%
Chizine: 78%
Fantasy Magazine: 88%

So if you've never published anything before and your query to F&SF keeps getting SASEd back to you, now you might have an inkling why.

* * *

Finally, I want to add a plug for SmokeLong Quarterly, even though it's not sf&f, and even though I have no idea what percentage of new writers they publish, because (a) it's the bees knees, and (b) fellow blogger Davin Malasarn helps edit it. Check out his blog for an interesting essay of the value of online publication.

If you know of any other publications deserving a plug, let me know and I'll be glad to add them.

Bad Endings

Natalie has summarized some of the factors that make for bad endings on her blog.

She listed:

1. Too unexpected

2. Negates the entire purpose of the story

3. No actual resolution

4. Goes against "the genre"

*looks around nervously* I don't see "ends on a cliffhanger" in there. Maybe I'm safe. Or maybe she just forgot to mention it. I think there are a few others I would add:

5. Has less dramatic tension than the earlier parts of the book, so ends with a "whimper".

6. Leaves too many loose ends -- questions raised earlier in the story are never answered. This is a less severe version of #3, but still annoying.

7. The resolution comes from outside the MC's efforts.

Spacebat Flies for the Last Time *Snif*

"Spacebat Tribute" Video Will Make You Cry Like "We Are the World"

Mar 18, 2009

Seducers, Charmers and Con Men

Candice Kennington has a post wondering if it is possible to make one's villains too charming -- stealing the hero's thunder and the reader's heart.

This made me cogitate. (It's my blog. I can use pointless $3 words if I want!) In Book 2, the heroine has three potential love interests.

Hero - Her first love, who (she thinks) abandoned her, but who was actually removed by the villain. I don’t want her first love to seem like a wanker or a wimp even though he’s out of the picture.

Anti-hero - The villain who falls for the heroine himself though his feelings for her endanger his nefarious schemes. I want the the villain to be the dark, brooding type you fall in love with, even though you know it’s not a good idea.

Foil - The charmer who accepts a Dangerous Liaisons type challenge from a villainess to seduce the heroine. I want the charmer to be another kind of bad boy to make the villain/anti-hero seem ironically gallant by comparison. (I.e. the villain may be serving the wrong side, but he is doing so for noble reasons; whereas the charmer is really just self-serving.) However, the charmer also has to be redeemable.

* * *

The research I mentioned before refers to the Charmer.

The Charmer is a con-man whose game is seduction. One interesting thing about the Casanova type is that he doesn't just come out and say what he means or what he wants. He's sly. 

This is what I had wrong in my first draft. I had the Charmer winking and leering and oozing compliments over the girls he wanted to seduce. However, it didn't read real. A little digging showed me why. The true Charmer knows better than to wolf whistle -- this would alert his prey of his true intentions. The real wolf wears sheep's clothing. Not that this means he plays nice. On the contrary, he's actually likely to hide digs in his flattery.

Sara put her finger on it when she said, "You can have him insult her, but in a way that makes her actually think he's right."

That's exactly the technique advocated in the "How to Get Laid Handbook" I'm reading. Okay, it's actually called the Mystery Method, and is supposedly written by the guy Neil Strauss studied with in The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. (Thank you, Amy B, for the recommendation; I wasn't able to read Strauss' book, because it's not available for the Kindle, but I plan to read it eventually.)

Here's a sample of his technique:

The punish-reward dynamic must be used...This phase is also your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to make uncomfortable situations comfortable again. Here it's great to use sniper negs, like saying, "You have something on your nose," and then handing her a tissue. She feels uncomfortable, but it's not your fault. It's God's. Right after this, she will feel so small. After she notices that you are freezing her out a bit--not as if you're being cruel but rather as if you aren't interested in her--give her a compliance test, and then reward her compliance...In this way you can continue rewarding her but only for compliance, not misbehavior.

I have to say, reading this book made me feel like I had dipped my hand in sewage. It was really creepy. I also experienced deja vu. I realized that when I was single, I encountered guys using these techniques! I recognized some of the very lines used. Ick.

Just in case any admirers of this system landed on this page by mistake, please know, this does not work with every woman. Furthermore, why you would want to crush the self-esteem of a woman you are supposedly interested in is beyond me. This book did remind me how lucky I am I found my love-of-my-life geek.

* * *

Sorry for digressing. Back to my point. The thing about the creepy dialogue is that the sleaze is only apparent when you realize how every line is calculated. As in the excerpt quoted above, the Charmer appears solicitous of the woman. Rather than put the move on her, he tells her they could never be together (because of something which subtly insults her, challenging her to prove him wrong, such as she is "too nice" or "too young.") His hands are all over her, but only briefly, ostensibly for some legitimate reason. His insults are disguised as playful teasing, his tests of her obedience are disguised as good-hearted give-and-take, his demands are disguised as favors.

In fact -- and this is probably my biggest problem with the Romance genre -- he does a lot of the things an Alpha Male in a typical bodice ripper does.

This makes it all the more important to me to include the Charmer. Although my heroine's other romantic interests may share some of the characteristics of a bad boy, their motivations, and ultimately, their actions, are different.

* * *

Another useful book has been Gavin De Becker's The Gift of Fear about human predators of all types.

Jack the Ripper shares many of Casanova's techniques. Here's De Becker's list of danger signals:
Forced Teaming: Pretending to share a common problem or goal. "Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we're-in-the-same-boat attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude."

Charm and Niceness:"To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. Think of charm as a verb, not a trait." Big smile, constant chatter.

Too Many Details: "He used catchy details to come to be perceived as someone familiar to her, someone she could trust. But she knew him artificially; she knew the con, not the con man."

Typecasting: "A man labels a woman in some slightly critical way, hoping she'll feel compelled to prove that his opinion of her is not accurate." This is what sleazy-guy Mystery Man calls "negs", disguised digs which provoke the other person to prove the speaker wrong.

Loan Sharking: "He wanted to be allowed to help you because that would place you in his debt, and the fact that you owe a person something makes it hard to ask him to leave you alone."

Unsolicited Promise: "It's useful to ask yourself: why does this person need to convince me?" The Mystery Man uses a variation of this: he advices men to pretend to be about to leave, "I a have to go in a minute, but first..." This disarms the listeners, who aren't worried about him overstaying his welcome. But in fact, he has no where else to go, because "gaming" people is exactly what he's there to do.

Discounting "No": "Declining to hear 'no' is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it.... The worst response when someone fails to accept 'no' is to give ever-weakening refusals and then give in. 
* * *
This is all a lot of meat to chew, and I hope you don't mind my sharing it. My next challenge will be to digest what I've learned and regurgitate it in a way appropriate to my specific characters and setting. And, oh dear, I apologize for the metaphor, I've had way too many encounters with regurgitation lately. :D

What Bored Welshmen Do With Their Sheep

That's just not natural!

They do one in the day, but the real fun comes when they do it in the dark. ;v)

Mar 17, 2009

St. Patty's Day Projectiles

We still have guests, and I'm sick, so I may not finish my post on Seduction until later. (Thank you, all of you who chimed in with great stories!)

Just wanted to let you know the baby threw up on me. On himself. On the couch. On the floor. On the rug. On the guests. Yeah. It's a non-stop fun fest around my house.

But, hey.

It wouldn't be St. Patty's if someone didn't drink too much and vomit, would it?

Mar 15, 2009

Guests and Players

We have out-of-town guests staying with us this week, and they're sleeping in the room which normally serves as my home office. For that reason, I will probably not get much writing done, and may find it hard to blog as well. However, I can't complain. At least my house was not flooded!

I'm not sure what this will do to my writing schedule for Book 2. I fear I was only able to join Sam's Virtual Write-In for about 2 hours. (I only wrote 500 words, but it was on a scene I had been struggling just to start.)

I'm trying to use the time productively by doing research for a character and storyline which has been giving me trouble. As I mentioned, one of my subplots is a rip of Dangerous Liaisons; a female character challenges a male character to seduce the heroine. I want to write some of the seduction scenes from the seducer's PoV. Even more fundamental, I wanted the lines he uses on her to be true to the kinds of lines players use.

Being a big nerd, I don't have a lot of personal experience with this, so I'm going on (a) knowledge of friends who are players and/or have been played, (b) memory of a couple of dates where the guys attempted to feed me lines, (c) a book about con artists and criminals and how to recognize their tactics, (d) a "guide" to modern men on how to get laid. I presume the techniques haven't changed much.

If any of you have great "player" stories -- from either side of the game -- feel free to share them in the comments.

Mar 14, 2009

Virtual Write In

Today I'm participating in Sam Elliott's First Ever Virtual Write-in. 

Elsewhere on the net today, there's an agent chat at Castle in the Sky Flight of Fantasy.

And I just found a cool site devoted entirely to book trailers called Blazing Trailers.

Mar 13, 2009

Scenes from a Writer's Marriage

[I tried to put this in proper script format, but Blogger wouldn't let me. Blogger and I have some Issues We Need to Work Out. We'll be seeing a counselor soon.]

* * *


The room shows a mess born of obsession -- papers, books, notebooks, pens and six computers; and neglect -- clean laundary still unfolded in baskets, toddler toys abandoned in parade formations on the floor. Every available wall is lined with books: writing books (Characters and Viewpoint), historical books, (A History of the Plantagenets) and fiction (The Simirillian). It's possible there's a baby crawling on the floor somewhere, but hard to tell because of the mess.

WRITER'S HUSBAND:  We can't pay the bills this month.

WRITER:  Um. [Beat] Do you have a plan?

WRITER'S HUSBAND: My plan was for you to sell a book.

WRITER: Oh. [Beat] You do realize that even if I sold a book this exact second, it wouldn't make money for like, another two years.

WRITER'S HUSBAND: Yeah. I know. My plan was for you to sell a book two years ago.


WRITER: I'm working on it.

WRITER'S HUSBAND: Yeah, but you're working on it in your way.

WRITER: What's "my" way?

WRTIER'S HUSBAND: You keep re-writing it.

WRITER: Only because it still sucks.

WRITER'S HUSBAND: You've been re-writing it for twenty years.

WRITER: Not twenty! Only... [Writer visibly struggles to count on fingers] like, ten.

WRITER'S HUSBAND: Even if you sold your book for a million dollars, divide that by ten years, and you're still making less than you could at a real job.

WRITER: What if I sold a book for 4.8 million? Audrey Niffenegger just spent six years writing a book she sold for 4.8 million dollars. Of course, before that, she wrote a bestseller, The Time Traveller's Wife.

WRITER'S HUSBAND: I'd be happy if you just sold a book for one million.

WRITER: I'd be happy if I just sold a book for one thousand! [laughs]

WRITER'S HUSBAND: I'd be happy if you just sold a book for one million.

Internet Idea Ideation - 02

"I may be a thief and a liar," he says in beguiling Italian-accented French. "But I am going to tell you a true story."

Gotta say, that would make a great first line for a book based on the true story of the world's biggest diamond heist.

MARCH 18, 2009 UPDATE:

I fixed the link.

This is still great story fodder, but before you try to execute a plot heist, be aware it's already been optioned to be made into a movie.

Must Use Words For My Next SF Thriller

There are words I need, which I didn't even know needed until I found out what they were. Then I slapped my forehead and said, "Yowza! So that's the word I was looking for!"

hydromodo a "superhydrophobic coating—what the scientists are casually calling 'the cooperative effect of hierarchical micro/nanostructures and a low-surface-energy wax coating'—[which] creates a cushion of air around the boat (or the bug's leg), putting an invisible bubble between it and the water. "

lamina "a layer of data over the real world that can be accessed by people with the right interfaces (googles, contacts, direct neural interface)"

Quick thoughts on hydromodo: 

Floating City. 'Nuf said.

Quick thoughts on lamina.

Random Thought # 1: A word is still missing. Lamina is the noun. What is the verb? To ... laminate? Hm...

Random Thought # 2: As if High School wasn't hell already, now you will walk down the halls knowing people are laminating the words,  epic fail or colorguard or whatever 4chan equivilant will be the  insult of choice for esteem-challenged, cybermob-mentality adolescents of the future.

Random Thought # 3: It's funny to me that they show using lamina to check out book reviews in a bookstore or to read newspapers. The first thought I had was, "Will the ebook readers be obsolete before they even take off?" Why do you need a reader if you can laminate any surface with a book?

* * *

Incidently, I sent this to my hubby and he responded, "You know, it has been one of my dreams (along with being an Olympic speed skater) to talk at TED."

Mar 12, 2009

Plot Napster

I admit it.

I'm a plot thief.

There are no new plots anyway, right? So no matter how original you try to be, you will have inadvertantly stepped on the toes of some previous story's plot. That being the case, why not steal from the best?

I steal plots from the classics -- fairytales, medieval epics, religioius canons, classic literature. And even from history, although I'm not sure if history can be said to be properly plotted.  (Historical events tend to be too farfetched to be suitable for fiction, which, unlike reality, has to be belivable.)

I've started work on Dindi Book 2, titled-- for now -- The Singing Bow. I'm twelve days behind schedule, and having some trouble diving into it. My mind keeps nibbling away at Book 1; I'm finding it hard to focus on the new work. But thanks to the beuaty of plot napster, at least I have a plot!

I start with a stock fairytale (when in doubt, Cinderella always works); add a rip of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, overlay a Dark Dangerous Man (more an archetype than a plot, I suppose) and sample a cool form of human sacrifice once practiced in the jungles of India. Download into new novel.

Yeah, you heard right. Dangerous Liaisons with human sacrifice. No talking bears this time, though. Just giant scorpions.

Voila! I now have a plot worthy of YouTube. 

Why Does My Blog Insist on Translating My Excerpt Into Chinese?

I tried to post an except, and it came out like this.


Why, Blogger, why?!

Begin As You Mean To Go On

In my previous post, I expressed concern about certain scenes in my book and several people provoked synaptic activity in my brain with their thoughtful questions. (Prodding with a stick also works.)

Essentially, whether the scene involves sex or abortion, is it necessary to the novel? Does the book fall apart without it?

The answer, for most of the scenes, is no.

The first book could survive without those scenes, which all occur in the storylines of supporting characters.

However, since I'm writing a series, I'm trying to follow the principle of Begin As You Mean To Go On.

Later in the series, my hero and heroine will have several steamy encounters. Later in the series, a character will be brutally and explicitly tortured. Later in the series, there will be war, famine, rape and genocide. Later in the series there are also some foreys into weird literary techniques like second-person scenes. (These are few in number; please don't run). And philosophy. Not much. Hidden, hopefully. But shoved in there, nonetheless.

Those things are intregal to the plot. It's also integral to the plot that none of these things happen to the heroine in Book One. Not yet. She's only fourteen/fifteen, and although in her society that's quite old enough to marry and have babies, I arranged matters so she waits. Call me squeemish, call me a prude. I didn't want to go there.

Here's the thing. I don't want some hapless reader to coast through a gentle read about an innocent fourteen year old girl who plays with pixies, thiink, "Aw, how sweet," crack open a sequel and squeal, "WTF...? Where did all this sex, violence and lame-ass philosophy come from?"

Begin as you mean to go on.

With this principle in mind, I deliberately made a pair of secondary characters older and sexier, er, I mean, more mature, so I could show the physical side of their relationship, squeem-free. And also have someone to torture. And fight the hero in ridiculous over-the-top neolithic battles. Also, when my first draft of the book was entirely populated by twelve to fourteen year-olds, it was just annoying. (Ducks missiles propelled by irate YA authors). Wait! Let me finish! It was annoying because beta readers kept asking, "So this is YA, right?" And it's not.

Now, I still might delete the scenes I was concerned about. But only if I am convinced the tone of the rest of the book convincingly warns readers, "Here Be Monsters."  (One beta reader, after only reading Chapter One, did call Dindi's world "brutal", which was a such a nice thing to say, so maybe.)

I'm interested if anyone else is working on a series and if this is an issue for you.

Mar 11, 2009

Orc Armies, Please Apply Within

My goal for today is to finish the latest revisions to Book 1, then get it out to armies of beta readers, who, hopefully, will attack it like orcs in an elf village, and not only identify all the scenes which still REALLY REALLY SUCK but also give me some inkling how to improve them.

I know. I shouldn't obsess. I should GET ON WITH BOOK 2. And I should STOP TALKING TO MYSELF IN ALL CAPS.

Here are the scenes which particularly worry me:

* An explicit sex scene. Do I really want to include this in the novel?
* A non-explicit sex scene. The only thing worse than explicit sex is vague sex.
* A scene which involves an abortion and a talking bear. (No, the bear is not the one getting or performing an abortion.) There's just no way to do a scene like this right. (How did this even sneak into the book? I promise you, this was NOT my idea. I had no clue the characters were going to do this. Help!)
* A scene where I try to show my heroine as both suicidal and happy, at the same time. Huh?!
* Pretty much every scene to be found in the last 35,000 words of the book.

P.S. Sorry for the rash of blog entries. I always do this -- squish in three dozen posts on my blog one week, then go for a month with nothin'. The number of blog posts is proportional to the amount of procrastination I am engaged in to avoid working on my wip. Please don't feel obliged to comment, unless you too are procratinating something, in which case, make merry with remarkery!

P.P.S. I'm kidding about not feeling obliged to comment. You should drop everything else in your life to comment on my blog, otherwise I will have pressed REFRESH over and over again, obsessivly, compulsively, constantly, insanely for nothing.

Secret Trucks Delivering Books

Might Apple be preparing to take on Amazon for the ebook market?

There's something I keep hearing, and I don't think I'd rank it as high as a rumor, but it's an interesting story that I keep hearing, that for awhile, trucks loaded with books would arrive at a loading dock on the Apple campus, and offload big, big, big, big, huge loads of books, and then the trucks would leave empty. And Apple does not have a 100,000-book employee library there on the Apple campus. So one is prone to believe that they're doing something with these books, such as turning them into text for some purpose we can only guess at. There's been a long-standing rumor that Apple has been silently preparing to open a bookstore on the iTunes store, and they want to make sure that they have a very large stock of electronic titles when they do open.

Three reactions: Oh yeah! Oh no! and Squeeeeee!

Oh yeah, a bookstore on my mac akin to iTunes would rock.

Oh no, I hope this doesn't mean Apple and Amazon each try to corner mutually exclusive platforms and formats on their respective devices (Kindle, Netbook, whatever). I was hoping the Kindle ap for the iPhone was an omen of fuzzy bunnines and sunshine, but it might end up being Beta vs VHS all over again. How tiresome.

And, finally, trucks loaded with books would arrive at a loading dock... offload big, big, big, big, huge loads of books, and then the trucks would leave empty... Squeeeeeee! Whether or not this is true, I love the image. Can I get secret trucks to offload big, big, big, huge loads of books at my house too? Please? Please?

* * *

Oh, wait. I do have that.

My stepdad has been dropping by lately with boxes and boxes of my late Grandmother's library. This, however, is not the joyfest it should be, (1) because it makes me think of my gramdmama, which makes me sad, (2) the books were abused by the person who stored them, and are now moldy, broken, completely disorganized, and (3) most of the books are in German or French so I can't read them.

I'm going to scan them into the computer. Then I'm going to find one which is (a) out of copywrite and (b) in English, and add zombies to the story. Then I'll design my own ebook reader too, totally exclusive and incompatible with any other ebook reader in the world, so if you want to read Zombies Attack Heidleberg, you'll have to buy my reader. BWAHAHAHAHA!

Mar 10, 2009

Avoiding Melodrama

I'm writing a scene with high tension. A character has just been forced to choose between the life of her grandchild or her child. In her anger, at the world, at herself, she lashes out at an ally. How do I write this scene without slipping into melodrama?

It's espeically difficult because the ally is a talking bear.

Any advice? Tips? Tricks?

That's Not a Flashback, I'm Just Chronologically Challenged

The lovely Lady Glamis has once again inspired today's blog post.

Appropriately, this entire post is a flashback to something I wrote in the OWW discussion group a while ago. There we were discussing narrative tension.

One device which classically saps narrative tension out of a chapter is to begin with the happy end and then flash back. I think this is why so many people advise against flashbacks in a story.

Lord Theoddues Kelvin wiped his forehead. Zounds, that was close! He almost hadn't made it safely back to London.

When Dr. Devil had left him stranded in the lava pit, surrounded by hungry cyborg dinosaurs, he'd had to think quickly. First, he'd grabbed a nearby rock and thrown it at the control panel on top of the T-Rex's head. But the rock wasn't strong enough to break the plastic casing around the control mechanism. He leaped and rolled out of the way just as the tremendous jaws snapped at the spot where he had just stood...

No matter how exiting the scene in the flash back, it's boring because the writer just told you he'll make it back out alive. Plus, having a long scene in the past perfect tense is really annoying.

Not all flashbacks have to kill tension, however. Flashbacks can increase tension, if done right. Here's an example from my trendy steampunk romance:

Lord Theoddues Kelvin knew the moment he kissed the hand of the
Incomparable he had lost his heart. After a lifetime as a bachelor
explorer, he had finally found the Angel to lure him home to a
comfortable existence of brandy before the fireplace. He vowed he
would do anything to win her.

"Forgive me, we haven't been properly introduced. Miss...?"

"Viola Devil," she smiled. "Oh, here comes Father now."

Dr. Devil entered the room. He paused just a moment, a flash of shock
registering on his face, when he saw Theo.

(Four months earlier)

Dr. Devil shoved Theo into the lava pit filled with hungry cyborg
dinosaurs... [etc, ending on a hook other than the question of Theo's
survival, for instance, Theo discovers Dr. Devil has stolen the
Medallion of Time.]

(Present time)

"I believe we've met," Theo said with a tight smile.

"Why, how marvelous!" Viola exclaimed. Neither man moved. They watched
each other like two panthers. Her brow furrowed. She glanced between
the two men, sensing the tension between them, but not understanding it.

"Yes." Dr. Devil fondled the engraved bronze medallion he wore around
his neck, taunting Theo with it. "Lord Kelvin and I share an interest
in Paleontology."

In both examples, we know ahead of time that Theo survives the dinosaur pit. In the second example, there is still tension (hopefully) because the real question isn't whether he survived, but what is his relationship to Dr. Devil and how will this impact his relationship with Viola?

Some stories are more exciting if not told chronologically. In my sip [series in progress], just to make my life difficult, I use flashbacks in every single novel. They are not all flashbacks to the same character -- in a sense, they aren't flashbacks at all, but other strands of the story, told achronologically. They are told in the order the scenes need to be revealed, or peeled away.

For an example of this technique used to marvelous effect, see Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossesed.

Importantly, acrhonology fits the theme of my story, as it does in The Dispossessed, so it is not something I could simply cut or rearrange. One of the story's themes is the way the past, and the way different characters see the past, affects the present and how they see one another. So not only does the story include flashbacks, it includes flashbacks of the same scene told from a different PoV. Hopefully, this will not undermine narrative tension, but buttress it.

Mar 7, 2009

Speculative Literary Fiction

I enjoyed this essay on Beyond the Runis of Elechan -- which is also a really cool name for a blog. (For the full article, see here.)

The objections to Romance are stronger than mine -- I love a good Love Story, and will accept it for its own sake -- but I agree with this:
I want to read about a much broader spectrum of humanity with a much broader spectrum of experiences and interpersonal relationships. While I have a romantic streak, I want to read about same sex partnerships, people exploring their sexuality, about belonging with a group, close friendships, family bonds, siblings, choosing one's tribe... the whole gamut, please. Make me understand what makes people tick. Offer me alternatives.

... I value most highly the books that, on re-reading, I will discover more depth to. This admittedly places me less at the 'adventure' and more on the 'literary' end of the spectrum...

So why not just read straight literary fiction? Speculative fiction can offer a different kind of richness than a story set in the world we know. Just as we can know fictional characters with an intimacy we claim with most real people, in speculative fiction we can know other cultures in a way we are often unable to know our own.
Speculative fiction means I don't know the cultural assumptions people operate under; I don't know which way, figuratively speaking, they will look first before crossing the street, I don't know which insults they will be able to forgive and how easily, which persons and what actions trigger their 'enemy' reflex, how easy or hard it will be for them to change their standard mode of thinking or what that mode *is.* And in the reading, I am engaging with my own preconceptions and biases, comparing my reaction to the events I read on the page and the characters to the protagonist's; questioning, querying, I also do not know the circumstances under which they live their lives - I am literally walking in their shoes, seeing their world through different eyes - and I do not know what the technology (or magic) can and cannot do, so I am constantly discovering new things about my own world, too. (Never mind all the cool stuff that I would never have thought of that actually happened in our own world, only I wasn't aware of it.)

The trend now, even in fantasy (particularly urban fantasy / paranormal romance) is toward shorter books than the doorstops of yore. Unfortunately, a book which has both character depth and complex world building requires a certain expanse.

Also, plots which do these things - that have reversals and characters making bad choices and suffering the consequences and bouncing back from them and learning - are not ultra-short plots, which is one reason why I object to 90K books - not that you cannot write a great story in 90K, but my opinion is that a short novel (65-90K) is a different beast from the kind of novel I like to read and write, which hovers around 120K, or rather, in the 100-140K range. (And some stories are complex and interwoven enough to need more. This does not mean that they are bloated. More on bloateware in another post.)

Amen. The trend toward slender volumes has given my wip bulimia.

With all of this, I concur. Where I disagree is that this writer does not want to see,"The underlying myth is that one person - if he is brave enough and true to himself etc - can change the world, can make things right, or make things better, that there's a noticable difference of the world before him and after him..."

This is, of course, the heart of a fairy tale. True, every now and then, I think, "Wouldn't it be cool to see a story about a baker and a blacksmith who just remained so throughout the story and never turned out to be a king or wizard in disguise at all?" But every time I read such a book -- there are a few -- I find it profoundly dissatisfying after all. It doesn't capture the fairy tale. I think literary fiction, by the way, when it works, does the inverse, and makes an absolutely ordinary story as significant as the Odyssey or the Fall from the Garden. After all, why can't an ordinary person, if he is brave enough and true to himself, change the world, make things right and make things better?

The criticisms of the typical Save The World plot are perfectly valid. It is too easy for drama to become dullness. If the only choice is save the world or not, obviously the hero will save the world, and does any reader ever doubt the hero will succeed? The real questions are always deeper.

What is the real name of your real enemy? (The Wizard of Earthsea) What is the price of saving the world? (The Lord of the Rings) What does it even mean to save the world? (Heroes)

Mar 6, 2009

Slapped in the Face by Life, Followed by Life's Apology

Last fall I applied to a prestigious graduate academic program. I had a meeting with a professor in my field (history) and we had a wonderful discussion. I admire her work, and she seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what I wanted to study.

Early in the new year, I heard, albeit informally, that I had been accepted to the program.

Yesterday, a form rejection arrived.

As a writer, I'm used to form letter rejections, and, if it hadn't been for the rumor that I had been accepted, I would have soldiered on through this rejection too. But staring down at those words, "We know this must be disappointing, but we must turn away many applicants..." I felt a fool. Bitch-slapped by life.

I will never, ever be able to go to graduate school now, I whined inside my head. I will never be able to face my former professors to ask for recommendations a second time. I had only applied to one program. Idiot.

Fortunately, I had tried hard not to boast about my acceptance, but I had shared my joy with my family. ("Oh, good, finally you're going to stop wasting your time writing!") And even my writer's group. ("If you waste your time on that, you'll have no time to write!")

My husband, ever sensible, told me to stop moping about the house, agonizing over the letter, and to just write and ask them if it was a mistake. That's crazy, I thought, You can't write to either a school or an agent who's rejected you and ask, "Hey, are you sure about that?"

Of course, this was a little different because I had been told a contradictory message before. I emailed.

The rejection letter was a mistake. My name had been accidently slipped in with the long list of those to be sent form rejections.

Now, if only agent rejections would turn out to be mistakes too.  :)

Star Trek

The new movie looks pretty damn good. I'll have to take my mom, an old trekkie from the days of the first series, to go see it.

Apocalypse of the Books

Repent, sinner. The end is near.

I now have a Kindle. Even though I've had two ebooks published (under another pen name), and have often purchased ebooks to read, I've never had a dedicated ebook reader before. I insisted I didn't need one, wouldn't want one, couldn't enjoy one.

I love it.

As I curled up in bed, cuddling my Kindle, the bittersweet thought hit me, Oh, so it's true. Treebooks are dead.

You see, I can't even call them just "books" any more, because "books" for ever after will make me think of the content, without necessarily defining the medium. We no longer have mail, we have email or snail mail. We no longer have books, we have ebooks and treebooks.

The image of book apocalypse, by the way, I grokked from a real, recent incident, in which an Amazon shipper abandoned a warehouse full of books.

Here's my prophecy. Treebooks will not go extinct. There are too many people, like me, who love to caress old covers, turn pages, assemble a forest of spines on magnificant bookcases. But I fear, it is also people like me who will drive the explosion of ereaders and ebooks. Because what I love most about the Kindle is that I can download a book instantly, as soon as I covet it, without going anywhere, without waiting for shipping. Like most introverts, I find anything which helps me interact more with fictional people than flesh people to be a lure.

If I want to turn a book into a social forum, however, it's easier than ever to add in my own comments and share these with friends, so that our own community commentary interlaces the book, adding a new layer to the original text. Every book can become the mishnah of its own gemara, every ereader a compendium of living talmuds.

What, then, will be the fate of treebooks? I fear, sadly, as ebooks and ereaders become the norm, treebooks will become a luxury. Collectors like me will still shell out hard currency for beautifully bound new editions, but only of books we truly adore. Used books will jump in value.

I have a library of over 10,000 treebooks. A constant battle in our family is where to put my library. I want my library lining the walls of our house. Every wall. (Which is what it would take -- our house is not nearly so vast as my collection.) My husband wants my library in the garage, or, preferably, someone else's garage. One of his motivations in buying me a Kindle was to convince me to sell or give away most of my treebooks.

It's had the opposite effect. I'm more desparate than ever to hold onto my treebabies. They're going to be rare collector's items by the end of my lifetime.

Mar 5, 2009

Internet Idea Ideation

Fun and easy sources of writing challenges abound on the internet. Here's one method for generating story challenges: news headlines. Usually, when one reads one news article, along the side are three to eight other articles.

Here, for instance, are the Telegraph's Most Viewed for today:

1. Venezuela`s Hugo Chavez tightens state control of food amid rocketing inflation and food shortages Government price controls on basic goods have been in place, in various forms, since 2003. But the restrictions have forced Venezuela to become increasingly reliant on imports of these products as local farmers will not supply the selected food staples at government prices.Mr Chavez last month won a referendum allowing him to stand indefinitely for re-election.

2. Pink dolphin appears in US lake  "The dolphin appears to be healthy and normal other than its coloration, which is quite beautiful and stunningly pink. The mammal is entirely pink from tip to tail and has reddish eyes indicating it's albinism. The skin appears smooth, glossy pink and without flaws."

3. Gordon Brown appeals to US Congress for help to save the world calling on America’s politicians to join him in forging a global agreement

4. Fish with human faces spotted in South Korea
The "humanoid" carp are attracting attention in the town of Chongju in the centre of the country where they live in a small pond....Both fish are females and more than three feet long. They appear to have distinctive human noses, eyes and lips.

"My fish have been getting more and more human for the past couple of years," the owner said.

5. Max Clifford tells Jade Goody: `enough is enough`A reality television star sold the rights to her wedding for a rumoured £700,000 to OK! magazine and is also being filmed by Living TV dying of cancer.

And the article I was actually reading:

6. Stone Age phrasebook developed by scientists studying oldest words "If a time traveller wanted to go back in time to a specific date, we could probably draw up a little phrasebook of the modern words that are likely to have sounded similar back then." ...Researchers have also identified several words that could die out within 1,000 years because they are likely to evolve into different forms.

(Small town or odd foreign newspapers often have even quirkier headlines!) 

Here's the challenge. What if all of these events / facts / people were related? I don't actually have a plot tying in all of these, but if I did, this would be the cover for it.

UPDATE 11:00 AM.

Furthermore, all characters and brand names for imaginary technology will be named after blog comment verification words. So far I have, "Ardef", "Vizere", "Tabilizi" and "Noppit."

Twilight the Musical

An amusing musical Twilight parody.

Mar 4, 2009

If We Lived in a Holoworld

A love story on the holodeck, no words.

Sadly, my first thought on seeing this was, in a world of real holodecks, how many ugly holo-sites there would be, designed by incompetant nimcompoops like yours truly.

Imagine the worlds. Orange and pink buildings covered with heart blinkies.

Stone skins that don't quite reach the edge of the buildings. and roofs that don't fit.

Of course most of the holo sites would be dedicated to porn. And pop-in naked girls would appear in your holo world trying to get you to visit them. Or sell you viagra, or renew your car warranty.

On the other hand, think of all the new jobs for vitural architects, virtual interior designers and vitural landscapers.

Why I Shoot an Old Scene from A New Angle

Do you ever re-write the same scene from the PoV of more than one character? Do you include the variation in the novel, or just use it for reference?

I do both.

A lot of my stories play with Point of View. Not everyone in my world sees things the same way -- literally, because depending on their powers, they can see some forms of magic (some Chromas) but not others.

So as I comb over my new version of Chapter One, I am examining the meeting between my main character, Dindi, and the arch-nemesis of the whole series, Lady Death.

A bit of my dialogue is overblown and melodramatic, and I don't want that. Plus, Lady Death knows a great many things Dindi would like to know, but  Lady Death has no intention of revealing them. Accidently, however, Death does let slip out a few clues to her plans -- and her vulnerabilities. I have to make sure the secrets and slip-ups make sense from Death's perspective.

So I am re-writing the meeting scene from Death's PoV. (In Death's PoV, she even has a human name, but this is one of the things she will never tell Dindi). This scene, from this PoV, will not appear in any of the books. But it's useful in showing me where to adjust the dialogue. Ah, now I see, I realize as I re-write, Death is actually thinking this when she says that. But Dindi won't realize it.

Does anyone else do this?


I also want to distinguish between writing the same scene from a different PoV to be INCLUDED in the book, and writing a scene from a different PoV solely as character study. I do both.

As an example of a single scene retold from mulitple PoVs, I have a sequence which is told from a son's PoV and then, in a later book, from his mothers. The action and dialogue is all the same, but in one version we see what the son thinks of his mother (and what he thinks she thinks of him) and in another we see what the mother thinks of her son (and what she thinks he thinks of her).

Neither character would dispute the facts of what they did and said to one another, but hopefully the reader will still see the miscommunication and misconceptions which can arise even between two people who love each other very much.

Mar 2, 2009

Writing Levels

In the discussion of literary vs genre fiction, two points were brought up regarding litarary fiction. One, is that it is especially important in literary writing to make every single word shine. Two, literary fiction should bring up existential questions.

Scott Bailey put it like this on Lady Glamis' blog:

Literary fiction, as far as I'm willing to define it, is as much concerned with form as with anything else, and where the subject matter is the experience of life, and the purpose is to give the reader a chance to experience life in a broader way than before. Or, to quote C.S. Lewis, "passion is present for the sake of imagination, and therefore, in the long run, for the sake of wisdom or spiritual health--the rightness and richness of man's total response to the world."

I don't consider myself a literary writer; I reserve the right to toss magic-wielding barbarian hunks and kung-fu ten-headed rakshasas at my heroes, as well as to marry them all off to live happily every after. However, there are aspects of literary writing I try to sneak into my books in between the gratiutious magic, sex and cannibalism.

Even a pulp fiction hack like me has to make every word count. Mary Lindsey addressed this in her blog. An early rejection told her, essentially:

Your story and characters are intriguing. I was disappointed that the writing didn’t live up to the premise.  

Ouch. (Note, she doesn't have this problem any more!) This is exactly what I fear agents are thinking about my work. (My other fear is that they might say, "The writing is lovely, but the story makes no frinky sense." Or even worse, "The quality lacking in the writing of this manuscript perfectly captured the hackneyed plot.")

Writing quality is even more crucial if one is trying to slide existential questions into a plot-driven story. I suppose the difference between what I write and a literary novel (as I understand it) is that I seek to conceal weighty questions of Life and Death beneath a frosting of mind candy. This is the purpose of having Death as a living, breathing (and, in my story, mortal) character. You can accept the story on two levels. If you want, you can read it as an exicting action scene, in which a hottie in black leather fights off a bear.

There is also another level to the story -- nothing so crude as a straight allegory, but hopefully a fairy tale or mythic level, like the folk tales from around the world. That's what I hoped to capture, it's what my writing ability may or may not be able to express. The best fantasies all work on many levels: The Earthsea Trilogy, the Lord of the Rings, The Curse of Challion, Harry Potter and several other favorites.