Archive for March, 2011

Aging Authors

I don’t know how many of you caught my post at Turtleduck Press mid-February about how I believe that we are not only a product of our experiences, but also what we’re exposed to, and how important books can be to a young child.

What brought on such introspection was the death of Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall books, which I was in love with when I was little.

And this past weekend, Diana Wynne Jones, one of my literary idols, passed away.  (Patricia Wrede has a lovely post about Ms. Jones at her blog.  It warms the cockles* of my cold, dead heart to know that my two favorite authors were friends with each other.)

I took my mother to see Lois Lowry (Of The Giver and Number the Stars fame) give a talk at a local bookstore on Monday.  When she came in, my mother leaned over and whispered, “She’s getting so old,” to me.  Ms. Lowry is 74.

Life happens.  People die.  But I admit it’s a bit like losing family.  A good book is like a dear friend, always welcome to visit, and by extension, I can’t help but love the people who bring them to me.

And I can’t help but wonder about the stories that go with them, that the world never gets to see.  As a writer myself, oh, the stories.  They are never-ending.  I will never be able to write all the stories in my head.  What characters did the world never get to love?  What places did they never get to visit?

There will be new authors, new books.  But I can’t help but miss the ones that have given me so much over the years.


* The dictionary informs me that a cockle is a type of mollusk.  I am not sure where this expression comes from or why it exists, but you all know my love of invertebrate sea creatures, so I continue to use it, usually inappropriately.

Reluctant Muses

Turns out it’s hard to follow Alpaca Poetry.

Ever had a story you really want to write – premise, characters, setting, the whole nine yards – but something was missing that was keeping you from actual writing.

Aggravating, isn’t it?

As best I can figure, this missing bit is the feeling.  Even that is unnecessarily vague so let’s see if I can explain myself a little better.  I have a story I am planning.  It is the third book in a very loose trilogy.  I have my characters, my setting, the premise.  I know it will be dark fantasy but I can’t seem to put my finger on how it will be dark.

Admittedly a lot of that will be sorted out by actually writing the thing, but I feel like I can’t start until I figure out this…feeling.

No, I am still incomprehensible.  Alas.

I am not sure I believe in the concept of a “muse” – a being or whatever that guides your creativity.  Closest I have is a character that makes snarky commentary in my head about near everything.

But it’s times like this where I wish I did have one, so I could blame my problems on it.

Any advice, Squiders?  What do you do when a story just won’t gel?  The last one I had an issue with took two years to fix itself.

Alpaca Poetry

Once again, the Friday Round-up did not get rounded up, so today we will be discussing alpacas.

How can you not like alpaca?  They are fluffy and evil.  I submit the following as evidence (and also dare you not to laugh):

The comedic timing of the alpaca can be compared to the llama or the moose, both comedy staples.  (In my world, at least.  Admittedly I grew up on Monty Python and Whose Line Is It, Anyway?)  So, to honor these adorable would-be world dominators, and because poetry and I – especially meaningful poetry not about animals, fictional or not – do not get on, I offer you…the Alpaca Limerick.

There once was an alpaca from Surrey
Whose neck was not in the least bit furry
He tried Rogaine
To regrow his mane
All it did was provide rash-y fury.

Urban Science Fiction?

First of all, I apologize.  I’ve been doing a lot of writing entries lately, and I generally try to do an even mix between writing, reading, and general gushing over things like Landsquid and space shuttles and chocolate chip muffins.  I shall try to restore the balance.

(Serious, chocolate chocolate chip muffins?  Best Ever.  Plesiosaur approved.)

(Also, be aware that when you decide to do research on the internet, you will invariably be eaten by either Wikipedia, TVTropes, or, apparently, websites with ghost stories on them.)

Wait, I had a point.

Have you ever noticed that poor Scifi gets a bit shafted on the subgenres?  Fantasy has them out the wazoo, and it’s not like Scifi doesn’t, it’s just that no one ever talks about them.  We could get into a big, long discussion on where the division is between Scifi and Fantasy but I suspect no one really cares but me.  Suffice it to say, in my mind, science fiction tends to be defined by the keyword “science” – i.e. any story that features technology outside of the appropriate time period.

A lot of Scifi is readily apparent – it features space ships and aliens and evil satellites that very obviously scream “LOOK AT ME I AM THE FUTURE” (easily excitable, scifi), but I’ve noticed there’s also another vein of scifi where the future/science lurks just under the surface.

I’ve been calling this Urban Science Fiction (as somewhat of a companion to Urban Fantasy).  Perhaps there’s a better term.  These tend to be stories that could be tomorrow, with direct consequences of today’s technologies, today’s societies.  They tend to be set in the very near-future, in a world very similar to our current one.

I admit I find the premise fascinating.  It shows the direct consequences of what we’re doing today.  On the other hand, it can be poorly done, with the author beating the reader over the head with whatever message they’re trying to portray.

What’s your opinion of near-future, real world scifi?  Do you prefer your scifi with a side of faster-than-light drive and a serving of energy weapons?  Any book recs?

Using Fictional Places in Realistic Fiction

So you’re writing a book.  Aside from plot and character, one of the most important things is setting.  This determines the when and where of your story.

Let’s say you’re writing urban fantasy or contemporary fiction or something that takes place in the real world about, oh, now.  You’ve got a couple of choices.  You can pick a real place.  You can twist a real place (useful for alternative realities and so forth).  Or you can make up a place.

I prefer the latter for one main reason.

I was born and raised in Colorado.  And, in almost every instance where I’ve read a book set in Colorado, it has manage to offend me in some manner, and I am not that easy to offend.  And I live in fear that I will do that to someone else.   It’s easy enough to make up a town or a city, to draw out the layout or base it on something else.

In fact, if at all possible, I don’t mention a place name.  Most of the time it’s not really important, as long as your description gives enough information, and very rarely does it affect my plots.

Of course, everyone is different.  What do you prefer, as a reader or as a writer?  Do you like having real places, with real street names and real businesses that you can look up on a map?  Or do you not really care as long as everything makes sense?

Confessions of a Bibliophile

There is not going to be a Friday Round-up today (obviously) as I have not been on the interwebs enough this week to have rounded anything up.  Hopefully nothing too exciting happened.  I expect someone will tell me if I’ve missed anything of particular note.

Anyway, I’ve come today to state that I have a problem.  I am addicted to books.  I am drawn to them.  I cannot help it.

I came to this realization on Tuesday night after I’d managed to acquire five books over three days without meaning to.  Sunday I borrowed a book from my mother and bought another at Goodwill.  Monday I received a book in the mail that I’d won in a contest.  Tuesday I went and saw Jasper Fforde at a local bookstore and ended up with another two books.  Then I sat around, surrounded by books, and cackled madly to myself.

It was not an unpleasant feeling.

There are some problems with being a bibliophile.  My husband complains how, at the slightest lull in a conversation or an activity, I will have found something to read and be lost to the written word.  My bookcases are overflowing.  There are books everywhere.  I find them in the oddest places.  (Under some slippers was the strangest in the last week.)

I will die surrounded by books, and then they will eat my body.

Still, I find I can’t be too worried about my inevitable fate.  There are certainly worse ways to go than to be devoured by fiction.  As far as addictions go, it’s one I hope to never recover from.

The Value of Story Research

A few weeks ago I was at a write-in with my sister.  She wasn’t writing anything, and when I asked her why, she said she was waiting for books from the library so she could do some research.  “It’s not like I’m writing fantasy, Kit,” she said.

And then I sicced the landsquid on her.

Okay, not really.  I admit, a lot of the appeal of fantasy (to me, at least) is that I get to make up people and places and nobody can tell me I’m wrong about them.  But even so, there’s still a value to researching elements of your story.  The more you know about something, the more authentic your story comes across, the truer it rings to your reader, and the more solid your writing is.

Oh, Kit, you say, why not just write about things you know about?  Okay.  Let’s use this as an example.  My collab partner and I just finished the first draft of our story.  My POV character is a teenaged girl (been there, done that) who is a camp counselor (check).  At one point a camper is startled by a snake and my character tells it’s a harmless snake – but it served my purposes better to know what sort of snakes would be found in the area and which would be harmless.  This is a character who is very familiar with the area so this is information she would know.  (Other things researched during first draft writing: maps of the state of Minnesota, range of kinnickinnick, stitches/skin grafts/rope burns, how easy it is to get a gun in Minnesota, poisonous plants, amount of alcohol needed to knock out a 170 lb teenaged boy and what that same amount would do to a 110 lb teenaged girl, etc.)

Of course, that’s a non-fantasy example, but let’s move on.  A lot of fantasy twists mythology, paranormal events, other fantasy stories, legends, etc.   I’ve got a YA fantasy that’s partially fairy tale satire, so it behooved me to relatively familiar with fairy tales before starting it.  (The MC’s great aunt lives in a gingerbread house.)  For a paranormal romance I spent three months researching angel mythology, early Jewish/Christian/Islamic beliefs, and the Garden of Eden.  And while that story’s a mess, I’m damn proud of the characters and the world.

But Kit, you say, what about off-world fantasy, where you’ve made up the world and the species and everything and it’s not based off of anything?  (Well, first I call shenanigans, but…)  I have a high fantasy trilogy.  I’ve spent over a decade working on world-building and characterization and plot, and even though I’ve made everything up, I’ve still needed to do research.  The main characters belong to a species that lives deep in a forest where there’s little light.  I spent many a camping trip in the Redwood forests of Northern California examining how the light got through the canopy, how it smelled, what sort of groundcover there was, things along those lines.

Was it necessary?  No.  Most people are probably perfectly capable of imagining what the darkest reaches of the forest are like, but to have experienced it, to be able to twist that knowledge into my narrative and setting makes it easier for me to engulf the readers in the story. 

Research.  Do it.  It only makes things stronger.