Saturday, February 28, 2009
Technically I'm covering up for my friend John Lambshead who is stricken by the flu. I told him of my aunts old cure involving drinking a whole bottle of Port Wine and then waking up either cured or dead. However, I added the caveat that I was never sure what she meant by waking up dead, and John is FAR too nice to become a zombie. So hopefully he'll be back next week, alive and not writer of the living dead.
I planned to do something more complex here today, but I am in the middle of one of those crisis that do not happen to writers' only, tend to happen to writers almost by default. As in my keys -- car keys and all -- vanished over the last two days. While it's possible that I was pickpocketed or that one of the cats -- Havey, aka Basement Cat in lol speak -- took them and hid them, it's at least as likely that I happened to be uh... in a different world in my mind, when I put them down somewhere.
Though this hasn't happened in years, I have put my purse in the freezer under the belief it was a chicken, and I have also in recent times put my little day cream jar in my desk drawer. So... anything could have happened to those keys. Of course I'm "grounded" by lack of car keys till I find them, so this became rather front and center in my consciousness.
To make it up to you, though, this is me reading one of my old shor stories: http://Diner.TeddRoberts.com/uploads/podcast1.mp3
Warning, there is a ridiculous accent at the end of that link. Also, my husband informs me it's tiny and another thousand sins. Sigh. I have podcast editing software, and I shall be playing with it soon.
Also there is a new and different story of mine at
I'm going to be writing a series of stories set in my Space Opera universe, as a ramp up to the release of my Space Opera DarkShip thieves. My initial idea was to just write these and eventually make a cd to put at cons, however I decided to post them as I wrote them on my conference at the baen bar, and then my friend Darwin Garrison said maybe we could release them a few days later in his magblog evolutions. So there you have it. Think of these as those little "gifts" stores give you, to draw you in. :) Hopefully you'll enjoy it. There will be others available at evolutions, probably one a week.
And now I go look for keys and other typical writerly occupations.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Posted by Jennifer Stevenson
Every writer who relies on their writing income worries about illness stopping them from writing. I’m one of those lucky people who can write when I’m sick, sore, overtired, dead asleep, cranky, or under the influence. But I do fear illness, if for no other reason than it makes me suck at roller derby practice.
This winter smacked everyone I know with a combination sinus infection, head cold, ear infection, sore throat, and cough. It got me two weeks ago, and I’m finally beating it. I got stupid for only five days, but it did stop me from writing those five days.
Things that helped kill it, and things that helped it kill me:
Killed it: Garlic shooters. Garlic is antibiotic, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory. Smash a fresh clove of garlic. Put it into ¼ cup of water. Shoot it past your tongue & down your throat. (The Very Butch can chew their garlic—I can’t.) Chase with more water. FYI, garlic pills don’t work. The good stuff in garlic dies ten minutes after crushing, and you have to crush it to release the good stuff in the first place.
Killed me: Going to speed skating practice with half a dozen rug rats—all of whom, btw, smoked my shorts on their in-lines. Children are a recognized source of germs. They trade them at school like Magic cards. If you can’t avoid children when your health is vulnerable, then double up on all your defenses.
Killed it: Sleep. There is no substitute.
Killed me: Eating sugary foods—Superbowl Sunday, oops! Invasive infections love sugar. (As does cancer, did you know that?) One of the best ways to kill your cold fast is to cut out all sugar. Instead, load up on veggies in your chicken soup. Yes, carrots and onions are a weak palliative when you’re craving the hard stuff, but they will starve out your disease.
Killed it: Gargling with salt water. In this department I will add nasal irrigation with the netti pot. I use two versions: plain hot salt water and salt water with an eyedropper of tincture of goldenseal, another natural antibiotic.
Killed me: Alcohol. See Superbowl Sunday and sugar. Drink water instead. Not soda, not tea, not sports “water,” not coffee. A gallon of water a day will work miracles.
Killed it: New stealth weapon against colds that involve the sinuses, throat, or ears: Floss well and then rinse with mouthwash and/or hydrogen peroxide. Your mouth breeds germs because it’s full of germ food (sugar). Other people’s germs often enter your system through your mouth. Kill off the bacteria in your mouth two or three times a day, and you’ll get better faster. You might not even get sick.
Take care of yourselves. Winter’s not over yet.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Endings, on the other hand . . .
Thriller writers say the story stops the moment the tension is released. Action, explosion, kidnap victim recovered, and boom--the story's done.
Mysteries aren't a whole lot different, I don't think. I always love Agatha Christie's ending: "You know what we need, dear? A nice cup of tea." The books don't meander on, exploring where we're all going to go now that the excitement is over.
For my own taste, I like a little coda at the end of a book. I like to know what might happen next. I want a clue as to how the characters will go on, now that the crisis is past. Will they stay together? Bid each other a teary farewell? Start a new life in a new place? There will be new complications and challenges in characters' lives, and I love to have a hint of that. I like to think, when I put down a book, that the characters in it go on living even though I can't read about them anymore.
And if I care that they go on living, then the writer has done her job.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
When should a story open? Exactly when it needs to and not a moment sooner. I know this is about as informative as answered "How tall should a person’s legs be?" the answer being "As long as they need to be" being, of course, true but not particularly helpful when it comes to constructing a facsimile of a human being, like a statue or a piece of art.
And yet, unlike a statue or a piece of art, there are fewer certainties about starting a novel. There is no such thing as "the beginning should be three times the ending" or something like it. Instead of we have people attempting to give indications and hints or describing their method for starting. "Start in mid-action" works just fine, except in cases where you’re dealing with such a far future or so strangely magical society that you end up making the part after the introduction heavy with info dump. "Go where the problem starts" is likely to deal any of us in the broad category of "thinks too much" to writing a great deal of unnecessary stuff in the beginning, as we poke around for the proverbial root causes. Then there is less common advice "Start with what the novel is about" for instance works just great provided you don’t mind reading what sounds like an essay tacked in front of the story.
So, how do you start a story? Well, like with art – I don’t know what it is but I know it when I see it – a good opening defines itself. I took the liberty of borrowing – with permission – some of the openings of my mentees, to illustrate what works and why.
From Kate Paulk, who writes in a variety of sub-genres:
Another convention, another con hotel. After a while, they blur together into an indistinguishable mass of faux-elegance and bizarrely costumed fans. I usually go in what you could call Olde Worlde Vampire - three piece suit, John Lennon glasses, cane with a pewter wolf-head topper. Take Gary Oldman in that appalling Dracula movie, and you have the basic idea, except I wear black and my hair is darker. And short.
No-one's ever given me a second look. It suits me that way: I don't need people trying to find out more about me.
Even the smell's the same as usual, the flat, rolled out smell of years of smoke, disinfectant and inadequate hygiene recycled endlessly through the hotel air conditioning. No, this one wasn't quite the same.
I frowned, tasting the air. The back of my neck prickled, hair rising as age-old instinct whispered to me of something wrong.
We start in the utterly familiar environment of a con. The costume makes us perk up going "I wonder." The fact the MC is reclusive deepens our suspicions. The fact he’s smelling the air, and getting things from it no human gets confirms our suspicions. And "Blood" tells us there is a problem. Since this is a fantasy mystery, it also starts the ball rolling on the main problem. Quickly, efficiently, with a minimum of fuss.
Then there is this:
Always before battle begins I am possessed by the need for solitude and prayer. It is a curious thing, for I have never fought as merely another knight. I first ruled men at the tender age of eighteen, when the old Ottoman Sultan Murad and his son Mehmed still thought I could be a Turk puppet.
Those who slander me say I care nothing for the fate of other men. They forget that those who rule by the Lord's grace are entrusted with the Earthly welfare of their subjects, and to some extent their souls. To take one's subjects into battle, however righteous the cause, ensures that they will sin. The burden of their souls falls upon me, their Prince.
You could be excused for thinking it’s an historical. It is, in a way. It is also fantasy, being the story of Dracula set in a parallel universe, where one thing is different – no, not the obvious. The opening is perfect for the book – and the character – but it might not signal "fantasy" early enough. On the other hand, given the difficult and innovative nature of the book, this might be impossible. On the other hand, opening before a battle, with a character conflicted by his roll keeps us reading more, and hopefully by the time the fantasy hits the reader will be too hooked to set the book aside. The battle she opens just before is where the histories diverge.
From Amanda Green:
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try. The memory remains, forever imprinted on your soul. It colors your perceptions and expectations. It impacts everything you say and do. It doesn't matter if the memory is good or bad, full of life and love or pain and death. That memory remains until the day you die – if you're lucky.
If not, the memory haunts you for all eternity.
Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knew that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died had changed her life and her perception of the world forever.
Again we know exactly what we’re dealing with. Oh, technically it starts with what the problem of the story is – memories that can’t be forgotten. But the fact that we’re dealing with a police detective tells us this involves crime. And that last line cues in the fantasy element pretty well. It also challenges you to go on reading.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Winter blanketed the city. Heavy clouds filled the sky and only the pale light from the street lamps broke the darkness which mimicked an early dusk. Falling snow danced in the wind, mocking him as he moved quickly as he dared down the street in the direction of Rastelli Square. A gust of bitterly cold wind cut through him, chilling him to the bone even as he slipped on a patch of ice. For a moment he felt his balance teeter, and he struggled to keep his feet. He quickly recovered and hunched deeper into his coat, reminding himself that, cold as it was, this was nothing compared to all those winters he'd survived in Siberia as he grew into manhood.
More importantly, the weather acted as his ally this day, keeping all but those who had to be off the streets. Fortunately, the threat of being caught in one of Russia's infamous blizzards kept the faint of heart safely at home, all but insuring he'd be able to make his way to Smolny Cathedral without curious eyes seeing. He might look like someone from ordinary peasant stock -- which was exactly what he happened to be - and, therefore, no one of any importance. But, as the last few years had proven, he was no ordinary peasant, no ordinary man. Because of that, it was imperative no one mark his passage. Too many tongues already spread lies against him, whispering them in the Tsar's ear in a desperate attempt to discredit him and drive him from the capital.
We know we’re in the mind of someone important, that there’s intrigue afoot and that it’s historical. Those of us who know Russian History might guess who this is. No hint of supernatural, but that again is difficult in historical fantasy without seeming very strange indeed. My rule is that it must appear in the first chapter and that the opening must be gripping enough before it appears. Amanda’s hints of palatial intrigue do draw us in. Of course, in this as in Kate’s Dracula, any reader picking it up will know it’s fantasy from extra-text hints, such as the cover and the imprint. And the opening convinces us the author knows her history.
Now from Robert Hampson:
The office walls were a cool, professional blue designed to send the message that this was an office of authority. The University logo dominated the wall behind the receptionists desk. The occupant of that desk did her best to ignore the man sitting in one of the visitor chairs. Her aura of professional detachment was marred by the furtive glances whenever she thought he wasn't looking.
Somewhere a battery-operated clock ticked loudly in the silence. From an adjacent office could be heard the clicking of keys on a computer.
Professor John Wissen sat waiting.
He has neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. None of that mattered anymore. Nevertheless, he sat.
Academic setting well rendered. We know there’s something strange about the character, because the receptionist keeps looking furtively at him. And time doesn’t matter to him anymore. Definitely supernatural (or supernatural sounding) in a scientific climate. A perfect and intriguing opening for a very unusual zombie story.
There's never a good time for hallucinations, but driving to work had to be the worst. It had to be an hallucination, after all, you would think that somebody would notice a man in armor on a black horse galloping down the 405. Ed thought to himself as he tried to watch traffic and horse at the same time. It was 8 AM and the San Diego Freeway was jammed. The horse and rider had appeared out of his blind spot on the right and were not only keeping pace with the slow-moving traffic, but pulling ahead of the constant stream of cars.
Still, no one seemed to react – there were no more red brake lights than usual, no cars swerving left to give them clearance. No horns, no shouts, no rude gestures. How unlike Los Angeles drivers.
This has to be one of the more gripping openings from the undeniably true first sentence on. You want to know what the heck that horse and rider is doing and why. Time travel? If so, why does no one else see it? Ghost? You keep reading out of sheer need to see what comes next.
Anyway – I hope illustrating the point eliminated it somewhat. As usual I am open to questions, comments and thrown change. [G]
Oh, for those of you dying of curiosity, I did a podcast of one of my old short stories. http://Diner.TeddRoberts.com/uploads/podcast1.mp3 It is largely unedited/unfiltered, as I was testing hardware. I do have the software to optimize it, but it will have to wait until I can install it in the "grown up" computer downstairs, as it seems to outgun my little machine. And, yes, my accent REALLY sounds like that.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I came across this article by Guy Gavriel Kay, where he asks why write fantasies based on real historical events? Then he goes on to argue that the fantasy genre gives the writer more freedom to explore themes because it is a created world.
I had to smile because this is the core of my Masters Thesis. I believe that fantasy is ideally suited to tackle the big issues because in a created world you remove the loaded nouns like Black or Jew and replace them with invented nouns, freeing the reader to identify with a character, he or she might not have identified with in a contemporary novel.
As a writer I set out to entertain, but I find themes recurring in my books. In 'The Last T'En' trilogy the two lead characters were from different races and they had to overcome their distrust of each other.
In Terry Pratchett's books he entertains us by pointing out the absurdity of our world. He could have written contemporary political satires, but he chose to use the fantasy medium.
I get a real thrill when I discover a writer doing something interesting with the fantasy genre.
So don't just tell me. Tell me why. I want the motivation. I do not want co-incidence. I want a train of logic. Then your story WILL suspend my disbelief and swallow me.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The problem is that I know too much about the natural world. I find it difficult to write about things that are virtually true or, to put it another way, wrong. This is not a problem that afflicts engineers or physical scientists. The starship Enterprise travels faster than light by ‘bending’ space with a ‘warp drive’. Fine. It is so far outside of physics that it means nothing and challenges nothing. I have a story that is being published in April that uses mediums to ‘fly’ starships to the stars, a concept that is no more real or unreal than a warp-drive.
However, Romulans and Klingons are a nonsense. They are not just humans with plastic bits on but they also behave like one-dimensional humans.
Years ago when I was a teenager (many, many years ago,) I read a fascinating and superbly written story about an intelligent animal shaped like a wheel. The hook was that it had evolved on a bay’s shoreline that had complex currents that rolled the beast around – so it had to move to live. Great idea, but it’s biological nonsense and that bothers me. Such an organism could never evolve.
However, once you use a magic-fantasy setting then anything is possible. The supernatural, by definition, does not have to conform to natural science. The only limitation is the writer’s imagination and his skill in persuading a reader to suspend belief.
Friday, February 20, 2009
A quick web search yielded no answers, only lots of complaints about typos in published work. Yeah, those bug me too. But these persistent typos in my own work bug me even more. I'm a competent typist. Overall, I don't make a lot of errors. But "availalbel" gets me every time.
I'm also having trouble with "chips." It comes out "chiops" a lot. This could be a slip of the fingers on the keyboard, "i" and "o" and "p" being adjacent. Or it could be emotional. This error occurs when I'm playing poker online (for free, for free - I don't play for money!) and I get mad at another player and type "take his chiops" in my note on that player. So, haste, and emotion on that one.
But that doesn't apply to "availabel." I'm not mad or anything when I type that. It just always comes out wrong. Could there be a deep subconscious aversion to the word? Does my failure to communicate "abvailalbel" indicate a feeling of stress, of pressure, that I have too much on my plate and so can't be availbel to others?
It's not just in typing business/email stuff, either. Even when I'm writing, which usually engages a completely different part of my brain (one that can't spell worth beans, and substitutes homonyms for the simplest words), I still can't type "availake."
I'm out of ideas. At the end of my rope. I can't even use auto-correct because it's never the same twice.
Maybe I'm trying too hard. Maybe I need to get help. That's it! Someone to proof my stuff for me, and fix all these pesky typos. It'll relieve my stress and provide meaningful employment for someone in these hard times. All I have to do is write up a "help wanted" ad.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Kate Elliot has written a very nice little post on the topic on SFNovelists: http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/02/18/creativity/ She nails it pretty well, and raises a good point about tracking the idea process with a brain scan. In fact, brain scans on creative people look different from those on noncreative people. Classical musicians' brains operate differently from, for example, engineers' brains.
There's a great old opera joke about why tenor brains are so expensive. It's something about how they've never been used, so they're worth more. (Sorry all you tenors. Just substitute "coloratura soprano" if it bothers you.) Seriously, though, I often wonder if it's the brain at all that serves up ideas. It feels more mysterious than that, even mystical. And I wouldn't hesitate to light a candle at midnight under a full moon if it would tempt my muse to pour forth her riches.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
As someone who has done a lot of slush reading, I have one thing to say to that. Thp. Oh, even more than that, I shall say THP.
What bores a reader is a boring opening. Whether that’s your prologue or your first chapter, if you haven’t engaged the reader by page two or, depending on how busy the reader is, paragraph two, you’ve lost the reader.
This said, clearly the best way to start a story is to dive into the story, head first. There are however reasons for prologues. I have a book for instance, in which I have a prologue to indicate the story contains sex. Why? Because the sex is one of the main plotlines, and it doesn’t start till chapter seven, when it would hit the reader like a mallet to the head. Likewise, in my Shakespeare books, I started with a prologue that gave the idea there was something going on in the fairy realm, before Will comes home and finds his wife missing. In the Shifter’s series for Baen – Draw One In the Dark and Gentleman Takes A Chance – there’s a prologue first to indicate that what seems to be a rather mundane situation between a young man and woman in the first chapter is really much more than that, and that they are at danger.
For this type of reasons – to lend a sense of urgency and immediacy to the plot, or to create a sense of something that’s ahead but won’t hit for a while, or even to set the tone of the book – if your first chapter won’t do try a prologue. However, if you can do without. In DarkShip Thieves, just delivered to Baen, I have Athena do her thing. What passes for a prologue is her musing that she never wanted to go to space. First paragraph. And then she wakes up in peril.
It is very important that you at no time start a novel with a prologue that tells you about the kingdom for the last three thousand years. Naming names. And dates. And expecting the reader to remember them. Also very important – unless your name is Terry Pratchett – never, ever ever start with the creation of the universe.
The most important thing is to make sure you signal with your opening what type of book it’s going to be. If you start a leisurely historical with a fast sequence in a computer room, people are going to be confused. (Not saying this might not be perfectly legitimate, only that this might be one of the those prologue needed cases, to signal the nature of the novel.)
So, the rules are Don’t be Boring & DO Start as You Mean to Go On. And the prologue or no prologue will take care of itself.
Next week – I thought I’d be able to fit it in today, but I think it will work best in parts – I’ll take openings of novels by my fledgelings (all of whom are publishable, even in their most off the cuff efforts and sometimes brilliant beyond my expectations). Openings I believe work, of course, and – exerting mentor privilege explain why they, in my opinion, draw the reader in.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I read an awesome chapter on VP in Ursula Le Guin's 'Steering the Craft'. She wrote the one scene from several different points of view and I don't mean simply first person, third person and omniscient. I came away feeling I had really grasped the nuances of VP.
I thoroughly enjoyed George RR Martin's Fire and Ice, even though there were so many narrative threads that the story spread out like a carpet and the momentum slowed down to a crawl. As I remember, he kept it simple sticking to third person POV for each short chapter.
Completely different, but also enjoyable, was Jim Butcher's 'Storm Front', written from the first person VP of a wizard detective.
There was one fantasy book I read which used a mix of first person narrative and third person. All scenes from one certain character's VP were told in first person. Looking back, I could not see why the author had done this. Why not use two third person VPs or two first person VPs? Neither of these would have worried me. But why use intimate first person VP with one narrative and deep third person with the other?
Currently I'm writing my King Rolen's Kin fantasies for Solaris. I've deliberately kept it simple with only three narrative VPs, and no change of VP within a scene. But I like to embed assumptions in the narrative while in a particular POV, so that only later the reader realises that the character has misinterpreted something.
I suspect all writers are frustrated actors, immersing themselves in a character, then filtering events in their invented world through that character.
So... I've had a full, fraught two weeks. Let's see, a robbery, getting stuck in a mud-hole, a cop trying a shake-down, a midnight call to say "don't worry, your son James is fine, on his way back from hospital.", wild seas, climbing, the delightful frustrations of beaurocracy, a crashed computer...
It'll all come together, along with the people and inner world in a strange book sometime.
See you there.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Q: You've just launched a new fantasy series, "Breaking the Wall." What are the ups and downs of starting fresh?
A: Ups. The fun of playing around with new ideas, new characters, and of possibly having a chance to interest a few new readers. In Thirteen Orphans, the first of the "Breaking the Wall" books, I met some people I'm really enjoying spending time with.
Downs. There are readers who mark a writer as doing one thing only. (Hey, I've been guilty of that, too, with authors I like). They may not try a new project. To many I'm the woman who writes wolves, and they may not be interested in anything else. That's scary for someone like me who has a whole lot of varied interests.
Q: When did you first feel like a "real" writer? And when did you first feel you were being treated like a "real" writer?
A: I still don't.
But I don't feel in bad company. Roger Zelazny told me he kept wondering when he'd feel like a "real writer."
Q: What led you to writing fantasy?
A: Speculative fiction in general is the way my brain works. I enjoy having a larger, more twisted universe to deal with than the "real" one.
I have only a hobby-level knowledge of science. However, I have a very considerable amount of knowledge of myth and folklore -- and I have the tools to learn more when I feel I don't know enough. Therefore, I tend to write more fantasy, but I jump at any chance to write SF. I recently wrote a novella for David Weber's "Honorverse," partly because I love Weber, but partly because I was a chance to do spaceships and all with someone skilled to back up my tech.
However, I have written straight mystery and historical as well, although these have tended to be short stories.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors to read?
A: Gosh. I have a list on my website, because this is always a hard one for me to answer. Tim Powers. Charles DeLint. Patricia McKillip. Terry Pratchett. Tamora Pierce. Roger Zelazny.
Outside of SF/F... I love classic mysteries: Agatha Christie. Dorothy Sayer. Josephine Tey. John Maddox Roberts.
There are also authors who have one book I adore. Fred Saberhagen's Mask of the Sun is a good example of this.
There are non-fiction authors I also gravitate towards. For example, I'll read anything Christopher Hibbert (the historian) has done because of his way of approaching his subject matter.
Q: Do you have a favorite book, one you have read many times?
A: Not a favorite, but, yes, there are ones I re-read. I'm currently re-reading Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed series. I'll re-read Terry Pratchett when I'm down, not because he's funny, but because he is wise.
Q: What's been the biggest change in your writing life in the last year?
A: Well, I'm between contracts for the first time in a while, but I've been assured that won't last. Still, it's unsettling. On the other hand, not having a contract to immediately address has given me a chance to write some things that have been "hanging fire," and that's been very nice.
Q: Where would you like your career to be in five years?
A: Beyond the obvious? Like still able to make a living?
I really don't know. I try to focus on the book I am writing, not on the future because there are too many variables in the future beyond my control. I mean, two years ago, I had new series coming out, a comic in the works, and movie nibbles.
Now I have a new series coming out, and fighting to survive in a dying economy. The comic deal has evaporated. And no current movie nibbles.
But I do have the three books I've written since to anticipate, and the pleasure of writing them to remember. That's worth a lot.
Q: What's next after the "Breaking the Wall" series?
A: I don't know. I've written a YA on-spec called Assembling the Lion that I'm really excited about.
Q: What writing-related events do you most look forward to?
A: Getting up and having a story buzzing in my brain, and being excited to get it down on paper... That's the best of all. Next is when I have a new project, and I hand it to Jim (my husband) and for the next week or so we discuss it while he reads it. That first sharing of my story is very exciting.
Thank you, Jane, for spending a bit of time with us. For more about Jane and her writing, visit janelindskold.com.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Now as an Englishmen, I am expected to be rather suspicious of Rome; after all, the Vatican has made serious attempts to exterminate us in the past. Indeed, there is much sword waving over Islamic terrorists but for most of my adult life it has been good Catholic boys who have tried to kill me. The Church has only just stopped praying for the conversion of England, probably because after five hundred years they have finally accepted that we are a lost cause.
However, I am somewhat bemused by Rome as the supreme conspirators and have mused over why this should be so. One reason is that the Vatican is old, the oldest continually active religious-political institution in the western world. The throne of England is the second oldest but is a bad choice for conspiracy theorists, with the exception of David Icke who thinks that Her Britannic Majesty is a giant alien Illuminati lizard from the constellation Draco bent on ruling the world or a certain London shopkeeper who thinks His Royal Highness Prince Philip runs relative-killing black ops units for MI5. As for the good old Church of England, well.... let us just say that no one believes that it could organise itself long enough to come up with a decent conspiracy.
The Vatican has a long history of interfering in politics and, because it was based in southern Europe, where gangsters, politicians, terrorists, businessman and priests tend to overlap to the point of being indistinguishable, some of that politics has been very exciting indeed. Look up the strange affair of Roberto Calvi, Chairman of Banco Ambrosiano of Milan, who was known as God’s Banker because of his Vatican links. Calvi was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in what looked like a ritualistic Masonic execution supposedly ordered by the Mafia on behalf of the powerful P2 Masonic Lodge. London’s Metropolitan Police Force – the best police force money can buy – rather bizarrely ruled that Calvi committed suicide.
As southern Europe has been somewhat northernised by the European Union, power in the Vatican has slipped eastwards to popes from places like Poland and East Germany. This further separates the Vatican from western culture. For example, no one in the Vatican seems to have anticipated that the appointment of an anti-Semitic bishop, who believes in the Protocols of Zion but not in the Holocaust, might be an issue.
The Vatican is authoritarian, demanding obedience because it is still politically based on a medieval political structure. It is also secretive, another essential requirement for a good conspiracy bad guy. The Vatican’s odder offshoots, such as good old Opus Dei, with its neo-fascist roots, add more grist to the conspiracy theorists’ mill.
So the poor old Roman Catholic Church finds itself the number one choice for any conspiracy novel whose plot needs an all purpose group of sinister manipulators. The CIA must be so relieved.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Today he read a scene I’d just written and said, “You might want to hold back this piece of insight into his character, because you don’t want to cheapen him.”
I boggled. “Fascinating.”
“Am I being stupid?” he said.
“Heck no. This is an important part of how readers feel about character. I’m really interested in this idea, but I don’t get it yet.”
He explained. “If you hold it back, and we learn this about him later as things unfold, it adds depth and layers to him. If we learn about it now, it just kind of builds a cardboard box around him, like, This is who he is, end of story.”
My brilliant husband.
Of course this echoes a rule from the great Lynn Kerstan: “No backstory. Ever. Never in chapter one. Never in chapter two. Not in chapter three, either, no matter how badly you want to do it. Let it come out between the two main characters in dialogue. That way it becomes part of the internal plot, part of the unfolding of their relationship, rather than an expository lump that falls on the reader’s head.”
Apparently the reader feels it is falling on the character’s head, too, to ill effect.
New rule. “Early backstory cheapens your character.”
Thursday, February 12, 2009
There's a lot riding on Amazon.com's new Kindle electronic book reader.
The $359 gadget, unveiled Monday by Chief Executive Jeff Bezos at the Morgan Library in New York, isn't going to make the entire book world go digital. It's likely to be purchased mostly by well-off technology and book enthusiasts, the crowd who embraced the first version introduced in 2007.
But the intriguing device, and its underlying business innovations, are burnishing the Seattle company's reputation as a pioneer in online commerce.
It's also a test of whether the 14-year-old company can sustain an entirely new and complicated hardware business.
Perhaps most important for Amazon's broader business, the Kindle is an opportunity for the company to further cement relationships with book publishers and help define how books are sold in coming generations.
I'm no Luddite, I promise, but I have only now ordered a Kindle. I know lots of tech-savvy people, but only two of them are using e-readers for their books. Agents and editors in New York are, because Sony gave a lot of their readers away to get things going, and it seems to have worked. It makes so much sense, because these devices are light, compact, and can see to it you're never without something to read! But still, I have a little difficulty wrapping my brain around the Kindle helping to define how books are sold. Wow. We've all been wondering about this for a long time, but . . . It seems the future is here.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
A question as been asked in my conference (Sarah’s Diner in baen’s bar at baen.com) about povs. Since I didn’t have a topic in mind for this post – yet – I decided to go with that.
First of all, let me make clear that I am quite possibly the worst with "standard terms" for anything, partly because I learned different terms (for grammar, pov, etc) in different countries and have got thoroughly confused. The terms I will use below are the ones I use for my own thoughts on the subject, and I think they’re fairly self-explanatory.
When I started writing, like almost everyone I wrote in first person. Not because the characters were a projection of me – which seems to be the common reason for this among new writers – but because most of the books I read – Simak, Heinlein, Anderson – at the time had a first person narrative. So, of course I wrote first person.
I enjoyed – and still do – writing first person. I do think though that, as I was learning to write it limited me to a great degree. You see, my weakness on starting out was plot. Characters I could do. They were not a problem and they were not me. (I used to joke that I became the character while writing.) But plots were rather more difficult, perhaps because the sense of plot seems to be slightly different for each culture. (Not sure about that, but I think so.) And of course writing first person limited how much of the plot I could show. And since I had no more clue of foreshadowing than a cat has of royalty, the end result was like a series of elephants dropping from the ceiling onto the protagonist.
So first person was a problem in terms of showing what was going on behind the scenes and giving hints at different perspectives.
I also found there was a prejudice against first person, though this seems – fortunately – to be limited and fairly isolated and perhaps declining.
Faced with these issues, I learned to do third person. Third person as is done in science fiction and fantasy or mystery is fixed and limited. You are fixed to one character per chapter (or section of a chapter, and it should be marked when you transition.) You are not omniscient and can’t jump heads at will. In romance, apparently, not only is omniscient expected but it is preferred by many readers. (I’m going on hearsay. I’ve never written romance as such though I’ve come close a few times.)
Because I like the intimate feel of first person, I often find myself "playing" third person like first. For instance instead of "Bill was angry." I’ll have, "Bill’s stomach tightened. His hands kept trying to clench into fists. *I can’t believe they did that,* he thought. *I just can’t.*
I’ve found that people reading third person done that way – third person close in as I call it – often remember it as first, but it allows you multiple povs. So if your story has various strands you have to follow, then this is a good choice.
If on the other hand the story can be told all from one perspective, I still prefer first person. I figure it gives books the advantage over movies of allowing us to BE someone else. Of course, in both recently completed books *DarkShip Thieves* and *Dipped Stripped and Dead* I got stuck to some extent with unreliable first person narrators. Can it be done and the truth still conveyed? Oh, sure. Just don’t try it in your first book out the gate.
You can have the truth conveyed in dialogue or come crashing in on your character unwonted from external stimuli. No matter how much the character tells herself it’s not raining, she still gets soaked, etc.
Exceptions to POV can be glossed over if either done at the very beginning of the book – I often do a "movie pan" of the scene before I "descend" into the head of a character. That way I make sure the reader has the whole scene before dropping him/her into it. Another commonly excused pov lapse in third person at least is to give a quick description of your character. This solves having them look in a mirror, etc. Of course, if you’re using changing POV in different sections, you can have the characters describe each other while highlighting their relationship.
That’s all I can think of to say on the subject for now. Questions? Peanut shells? Money? Throw them and I’ll respond.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I'm Australian and currently our country is experiencing the worst bush fire season in history. As I write there are over 170 confirmed deaths. At one point one of the fire fronts was over 100 kilometers long . How can you escape that? There are whole towns in country Victoria where almost every house and public building has burnt to the ground. And emergency service people are having to go through these towns looking for bodies. It is a horrible job. Meanwhile, there are still over 30 fires burning across the state.
Why am I talking about the fires on a writing blog?
Because I have been feeling inadequate. I felt the same way when the Tsunami hit. I wanted to help but other than sending money I had no skills. It made me question my life choices. I'm a writer peddling dreams. Why hadn't I studied to be a doctor or a nurse and devoted myself to something practical?
Then today on the news I heard a story about a man who stayed to defend his house. It burned down, so he went down the street helping people out of burning homes, saving 6 lives. He was just an ordinary bloke. He didn't consider himself a hero. But, when faced with a life threatening situation, he acted. His character was distilled by the event and his worth became evident.
Modern life often lacks purpose. It is messy and complicated, and we rarely get closure. In a book we can take the confusion and frustrations of life and we can distill them into events that follow a narrative arc, which the reader can follow. They can see how events act on someone, how the life choices they make shape them and influence those around them.
Sure, we may be writing fantasy and science fiction, not contemporary slice-of-life, but I believe our genre gives us, as writers, the chance to push our characters to their limits. They are forced to make important moral choices. The threats might be nano tech or mind-searing sorcerory but the underlying choice is good or evil, or even a compromise which the character then has to live with.
In a world where there are few chances to prove that an ordinary person can do extraordinary things, a work of fiction can reenforce this message. I think this is the reason fantasy is currently so popular. The average person feels they can't make a difference. In the traditional fantasy story, the main character is often someone small and insignifcant who rises to the occasion.
So, I feel that writers have a very special role in society. We do peddle dreams, but those dreams are important. As the reader empathises with the character, they rediscover that part of themselves that is the quiet, everyday hero.
This bush fire season will become something we measure all other seasons against. There have been terrible, heartbreaking losses but there have also been moments when ordinary people have done extraordinary things.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
I write you these letters on nights when I'm restless, confused, fuck I don't know.
You don't know this, but your daughter is an energy vampire. She wants to hold you in her arms and suck out your happy life force because it tastes so good. I sometimes think I remember what your mother's milk tastes like. It must be at least as tasty as your life energy. So happy. So sweet.
Once you are gone, I will start trying to kill myself.
How can I say such things, even to myself? I had larger ambitions for my life once. Drink just depresses me. Why can't I be a happy drunk, like my mother?
Can I crawl back inside your womb and start over?
Didn't think so.
Nothing good can come of me talking to this federal agent, so of course I want to do it. How can someone who lives such a careful life have so many self-destructive urges? Conundrum.
Next time no Kalhua. I can't sleep. I'm drunk and angry and tired and I can't sleep. I hate this feeling.
I am so happy. I have met a man who seems like he could handle it if I told him the truth.
That's impossible. I've lived through a lot of improbable, a lot of it. I know the difference between impossible and improbable.
He would be so annoying to talk to.
I don't want to talk to him, anyway.
I have not killed anybody in almost a year. This means I am overdue. I have learned the hard way that if I let my guard down, somebody pushes me into a corner and I have to, you know.
I don't know if it's have to. What I fear is that I'm merely being lazy. That the first time blew me away, terrified me, horrified me, created this hatred of myself that has never left me. And since then, the kills come farther apart. But they're still easier. So much easier.
I have this fear that if I am not vigilant, I will do this spy thing just because I am so bored, I have run out of interesting ways to be self-destructive. I am afraid that I will talk myself into believing that Mr. Federal Agent can make a difference in this crazy fucked up world, and that if I help him, I can make a difference too. Any excuse.
Because the fact is, my off-the-wall boys are very sweet and all, but I get tired of associating with people who speak in words of one or two syllables. I want adult problems for once. Not just who peed in his pants today.
I am so drunk. Does it feel like this for you? If you are so happy, why do you drink? I am unhappy, that is why I drink. I think it is, anyway.
I am starving to death. I no longer know for sure if it is prana I starve for, or if it is simply human touch. Would I feel fed if I held someone for as long as I really want to hold them? What if I first filled up on prana, say, at a roller derby bout, or in the subway...god, do you know how many hours I'd have to endure that grim, crabby energy? Argh. But if I could. If I could really be fully fed for once. Could I hold you for an hour, just hold you, feel you touching me? Could I have sex with a man and not kill him, not accidently suck him dry and feel him crumble to dust in my arms? Jesus fucking christ, what a horrifying experience. I never want to go through that again. Ever.
What would make me happy?
I don't know. I simply don't know.
I love you. Don't die yet. I need you to teach me how to be happy.
Friday, February 6, 2009
A lot of us don't want that to happen.
How to prevent it? Ideas are cooking. It will mean committing to support the mag, which means subscribing (not possible at the moment, but stay tuned), and other ways of helping.
There are groups supporting this effort on Facebook and Livejournal. Join one, join both, and share your ideas and enthusiasm for keeping this great magazine going.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
McKee's article is about a new nonfiction book, Scientific Mythologies, by James A. Herrick. It's a very smart and surprisingly thorough deconstruction. Here's a brief passage of McKee's review:
It's clear from the beginning that Herrick doesn't like science fiction, and that's perfectly acceptable. But what soon becomes clear is that he doesn't respect it either. Scientific Mythologies is filled with errors both large and small. For instance, it's riddled with spelling errors: the villains of Battlestar Galactica are "Cyclons"; the director of 2001 is "Stanley Kubric"; the star of Contact is "Jodi Foster". There are also a number of factual errors regarding the release dates of novels and films. If Herrick can't be bothered to spell "Kubrick" correctly, what does that say for the attention he gives to the actual content of the works he's discussing? Not much, as we see in his discussion of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His interpretation of the final scenes is somewhat odd:
Moreover, these aliens actually vaguely resemble some, though certainly not all, of the members of the gathered and adoring humans. Spielberg's camera lingers on an alien face, and we notice its childlike high forehead, large eyes and small chin. The director's camera now focuses on particular human faces in the crowd. Again we are struck by the large eyes, the high foreheads and the receding chins of these special humans.
Now, I may be mistaken here, but I've seen Close Encounters many, many times, and I never thought that Spielberg was trying to compare Richard Dreyfuss to the briefly-glimpsed grotesque alien in the film's final scene.
If you find all discussions of myth and science as fascinating as I do, you should read the whole review. It will save you having to read the book: http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10516
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
I finished it once sometime in December, and then found myself staring at it and going "That’s just wrong." So I’ve been trying to fix it. I just finished the run through on pinning the action today, and I realized both what was wrong and what I learned in writing it.
It’s not that I don’t normally write action. I don’t think there’s anything in particular I’ve never tried. At least not anything I’m conscious of avoiding or not writing. (I’ve even written erotica. In fact it was my highest ever paid short story. Eighteen hundred dollars for six thousand words. Unfortunately the magazine – Heat – went under shortly after and the story never came out. I still got the money, though.)
It’s more that my action tends to be wrapped around characters who – frankly – are so prone to getting lost in their own minds that they submerge the action in a bunch of introspection and personal discovery. This is one of those problems that are a reflection of how the author works, I guess.
However, the second half of this book – DarkShip Thieves, coming out from Baen sometime next year – is non stop action with brief punctuation of thought. Part of this is the character’s personality. Athena is the sort of character who wakes up naked, strapped down, tied to medical machineries, and yet has her pursuers surrounded, and it doesn’t matter how many of them there are.
One of the challenges of writing that much non stop action is that, of course, the charm of the character – or part of it – are the unexpected, zany wins against all odds and using improbable means. On the other hand, if the character wins all the time, then it starts to get incredibly boring. (Which is what I had. Oh, it wasn’t that easy, but it because "oh, lets see how she defeats a hundred men with a shoestring and a jeweler’s loop NOW.) On the other hand, if you throw too many difficulties at her so that everything she does comes out wrong, the character starts wondering why he’s following such a sorry klutz.
I think I’ve finally managed to work it into a rolling up and down rhythm where first she has an improbable and spectacular win, then gets in deeper and deeper trouble for an unpredictable length of time, then another improbable win.
Overall I THINK I managed just the right rhythm to keep readers interested. Tomorrow and the day after I do a line by line go over, and we’ll see how it plays.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I've just paid the deposit on a house in Montville (situated in the Glass House Mountains inland from the Sunshine Coast), where I'll run away from my family and commitments for 4 days with my ROR writing group.
While we're there, we'll be critiquing each other's manuscripts. Usually, one or two have to pull out due to work/family commitments, but this time there's 8 of us coming. So it means reading and writing reports on 7 books. But it is worth it. I'm looking forward to being Rowena the writer, instead of Rowena the pot-scrubber-taxidriver.
We'll eat good food (Dirk is a brilliant cook), sit on the verandah and enjoy the view, and in between we'll have intense discussions on improving our manuscripts. These are the kind of discussions where I feel like my mind is truly awake and buzzing.
So, all I can say is bring it on!
Monday, February 2, 2009
So how does this relate to writing? Well, if he'd known anything about climbing or Everest or just how hard it would be, he'd have been like the many hundred of young Zulu folk we tried to get to climb. If he'd accepted the limits set by his culture and origins he'd have still been a game ranger. And finally if he had not been a fluent english speaker who took the opportunity as it presented to him... and made the very best of it, he'd have never got the chance.
That all fits into the challenges of being a writer rather well
posted by Dave Freer
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Allow me to indulge myself with a snippet from one of my favorite scenes in Airs of Night and Sea!
It's short, and it's in my antagonist's point of view:
William found his teeth were chattering from excitement as much as from the chilly air aloft. Diamond flew straight toward the hills, her wings glistening an exuberant silver in the sunshine, her neck stretched, her ears pricked forward. William experimented, just a little, with his seat in the flying saddle. It seemed that the deeper his heels were in the stirrups, the more he could settle his weight against the cantle and press his thighs and calves against the stirrups, the better he could feel Diamond’s movement. He was glad of the thigh rolls that helped him keep his knees down, and he tried to loosen his grip on the pommel, to trust Diamond’s balance to keep him in the saddle.
The ripple of muscle across her chest caught his eye, and he looked down, past her beating wings. It was dizzying to see the ground spin by so far beneath him, the farmhouses like chess pieces on a great uneven board of fallow fields and narrow lanes. Only the road from Osham, twisting away toward the Uplands, gave him some certainty that he knew where he was.
When he judged they had flown far enough to the west, he laid the rein gingerly on the left side of Diamond’s dappled neck, and pressed his left calf against her shoulder, just beneath the jointure of her wing. Obediently, as if this was a logical thing to do, she banked and turned.
William seized the pommel with both hands in a sudden spasm of terror at the change in angle, and his thighs clenched beneath the knee rolls. Diamond’s body quivered at this. He struggled to relax, to keep the rein loose. Her flight evened out in a few seconds, and soon he felt secure again, heels down, head up, hands low on the reins. They were flying north now. Perhaps they could take a turn above Fleckham. Perhaps the lads there would look out their windows, stream out into the courtyard, and catch a glimpse of the glorious future that awaited them.
They flew on for perhaps ten minutes, and William’s thighs began to tremble with effort, his neck to feel rigid from holding his back straight. They would, he thought, take the turn over Fleckham and then go straight back to the Palace. They still had that first landing to deal with. Mistress Baron had warned that coming to ground was more perilous than the launch. He felt a jolt of anxiety as he thought about how far down he had to go, how hard the ground would be when they got there.