Archive for August, 2012

Time Quintet Re-read: A Wrinkle in Time

…though it’s really more of a wrinkle in space, if you know what I mean.

It occurred to me late last night that, as much as I hated tearing books apart in high school English, I am now doing it of my own volition and for fun.

Oh God, Mrs. Nations was right.

Right, enough of that, and down to business. (Though, every time I read “IT” I thought acronym and not word and it was really distracting. Somewhere out there is an evil information technology department hellbent on universe domination.)

So, I’m going to be frank with you. I have read each of these books exactly once (and I’m not sure I ever read An Acceptable Time at all) and they were all a very long time ago, and I have no idea where the series goes from here, and for those of you who have read ahead (::coughIancough::), don’t tell me. But it seems to me that we haven’t seen the last of the Black Thing at this point, and I would hope that it is revisited in the later books and eventually some sort of resolution is arrived at, no doubt incorporating what we have learned thus far about ourselves and the universe.

So, aside from the set-up of a possible over-arcing plot-line involving the Black Thing, the biggest part of the story seems to be the evolution of Meg’s character. She refuses to take responsibility for anything up until the very end. (I’m honestly a bit impressed with how calmly the other characters deal with her at places.) Still, as a child, I imagine I identified with Meg quite a bit – a bespectacled nerd that can’t seem to do anything quite right. Wouldn’t you want a sibling like Charles Wallace, someone who knew you so intimately?

Not sure what Calvin’s up to. He seems like a nice guy but he doesn’t get to do much in this book.

Also, I find the whole discussion of tessering a bit confusing. There is such thing as a tesseract – I did a report on them in high school actually (along with a two dimensional being whom I named Fred). A tesseract is a fourth-dimensional hypercube, essentially a cube that moves in time. That actually makes some sense, if you think of tessering as being on a section of this 4D cube, and then after n time you are somewhere else. But the explanation in the book says it’s fifth-dimensional (which makes more sense because then both space and time would be variable) but then it wouldn’t be a tesseract. (Wikipedia says that’s called a penteract.) So I don’t know if I’m not understanding the explanation in the book correctly, or if she wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about.

So here’s how we’re going to do this. I’m going to list some discussion questions. Feel free to bring up points of your own in the comments. Also, let me know what you think of the schedule (currently one book a month) and whether you’d like to move it up to one book every two weeks. By the current schedule, we’ll discuss The Wind in the Door on September 27. (It would be September 13 if we change it.)

1. A Wrinkle in Time was written in 1962. How are some ways you could see the story changing to adapt to modern technology if the story was written today?

2. At various points of the book, God or a God-like entity is referenced. Do you believe this is a Christian novel? Can you make any determinations about Madeleine L’Engle’s religious views from this?

3. What do you think it means that Camazotz is so similar to Earth when the other planets (and their creatures) are not?

4. Does a character like Charles Wallace have room to grow?

5. How do you think you tesser to a two-dimensional world?

Have at it, Squiders.


Why Writers Need Deadlines (and How to Self-Impose)

Writers love to write, right? So you’d think we’d do it all the time on our own volition, but the truth of the matter is we get distracted by the latest computer/video game, that shiny new fantasy tv series, writing fanfiction instead of our normal projects, or by the fact that our two-year-old has managed to single-handedly destroy everything in the house. We do this because telling a viable story is hard, and we get bogged down in it and nothing gets done.

This is where deadlines come in. Sure, maybe there are people out there who, when presented with a new project, can sit down and work on it the same time every day until it is done. I am not one of those people. I wish I were, but I’m not. I suspect it’s because most writers are right-brained dominant, and organization is not something that goes along with that. (I took some right brain/left brain quizzes here, and one told me I was left-brained, one right-brained, and one exactly in the middle. I think this mostly goes to show that right brain/left brain quizzes on the internet are bunk.)

So this is where deadlines are useful. Knowing something has to be done by x date often provides the motivation to sit down and do it in small chunks (or, I guess if your procrastination is really bad, all at the end), especially if you provide some sort of reward/consequence system. You might be able to do both, but you might find you can only work with rewards or consequences. I can’t do rewards myself. If I get a chocolate bar to give to myself at the end of a day of writing, I will get maybe a third of the way done, eat the candy bar, and then go play computer games.

I find the biggest motivator can be other people. For example, I always try to have something new available when I go to my critique group. Everyone else always has a short piece to share, so I feel left out if I don’t bring something. You can promise a new chapter to a reader by a certain date, and I belong to a prompt group with limited membership, so if I don’t finish something by a certain time I get kicked out. I belong to an online writing group that cheerleaders you if you miss a stated deadline (don’t laugh, they’re terrifying). I admit these all focus on consequences, because that’s what works for me, but having a friend or reader to cheer you on and celebrate your successes helps as well.

And deadlines even help with writing challenges. Nanowrimo wouldn’t work quite so well if it were longer than a month. If you are the type to write daily, setting a “have the book done by” goal will help you know how much you need to do each day.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you find deadlines helpful? What reward/consequence/systems work for you?

For Love of Gothic Novels

Just a reminder that we’ll be discussing A Wrinkle in Time next Thursday, so if you haven’t read it yet, GET ON IT. (Seriously, though, it took me about four hours to get through. A major time sink this is not.)

Gothic novels seem to be going through a recent resurgence which warms the cockles of my cold, dead heart. (Dictionary definition of cockle: a bivalve mollusk. Ahahahahaha. It also can mean to wrinkle or ripple, none of which makes any sense.)

What is a gothic novel? Well. A gothic novel involves its hero/heroine, often a young, isolated person with no family, going into some sort of mysterious situation. There may be supernatural elements (ghosts, etc.) or not, or there may be what seems like supernatural elements that turn out to be something else. They often have elements of horror to them – unexplained noises, things that go bump in the night, dark secrets and pasts. Often times they take place in or are associated with castles or other dark, imposing architecture.

Gothic novels were popular in the late 18th century and much of the 19th century, but then died out more or less. Some examples of gothic novels include Jane Eyre, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and many things written by Edgar Allan Poe.

Jane Austen even parodied the gothic novel in Northanger Abbey.

They’re sort of fun, though. The atmosphere and descriptions send chills down your spine, and you want to find out what those hidden secrets are, and what the evil plans involving the hero/ine are. So I’m quite pleased to see some new ones. I just read one that came out at the beginning of July: Dark Companion by Marta Acosta.

Modern gothics may move away from the castles and the moors, but there’s still a very definite feel to them. The isolation, the naive main character, the dark pasts. The feeling that something is going on behind the scenes, something sinister. Something you don’t want to be a part of, but can’t necessarily escape.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Microsoft Word Tutorials?

So, here’s a questions, Squiders. Well, actually, here’s an elaborate set-up, and there will eventually be a question at the end.

As you know, in my professional capacity I am an editor, and I also offer document formatting, such as preparing manuscripts for publication, either as print or ebooks.

And occasionally I will get manuscripts where it seems like people are still using a computer like a typewriter, or something else, that makes me think that perhaps it might be worth it to put together some Microsoft Word tutorials.

I’d probably make them available for a few dollars each.

Is this something that people would be interested in? If so, what sorts of things would you be interested in seeing? I could do basic Word functionality or focus things more on publishing techniques.

Or am I crazy, and perhaps I shouldn’t bother? (The business part of me – admittedly fairly small – says I shouldn’t so people will continue to pay me to format their documents for them.)

Let me know.

Thoughts About Orphans

Been reading some children’s books lately, and, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, parents are a bit scarce, especially in fantasy. Everyone is either an orphan, ala Harry Potter, or something else has happened to remove the parents from the story, whether they’re missing or merely completely irresponsible, absorbed in their own world with no time for their offspring.

The reason for this is simple. If you want a child character to go off and have dangerous adventures, it’s much easier if they don’t have a loving family to care when they disappear. If they’re tied down, it’s hard to get full freedom.

Also, it’s hard to believe that a loving parent wouldn’t do everything in their power to protect or chase after their child.

So storytellers throughout the ages have reacted to this by removing the parents. This is often true for everyone from the very young through teenagers.

I would argue, though, that it’s possible to have a character have parents and still have an adventure. It’s easier the older the character is because people naturally gain more freedom as they age.

To stick with my Harry Potter example, even though Harry’s an orphan, both Ron and Hermione have both their parents. And while Hermione’s are removed from the wizarding world, Ron’s are not, and are often in the thick of things.

In fact, one could argue that the HP world is more believable because adults are involved in the plot. There are very few worlds where children would truly have an adventure on their own. There are usually adults, and especially for something as epic as someone trying to take over the world, they would generally be involved.

But children don’t want to read about adults–they want to read about children, especially about children saving the day on their own.

Still, even then, there can be trusted or sidekick adults. As long as the kids drive the action, adults are welcome to play as well.

Well, enough rambling from me. What’s your feeling on parents in children’s/MG/YA stories? Is it possible for a main character to have their parents and still have adventures?

Why It’s Important to Read Outside Your Genre

For readers, this is an easy answer — because no matter how much you like a genre, it gets old after awhile. Everything starts to seem exactly the same, and if you read one more book about mermaids, you’re going to tear your hair out. So mixing things up keeps reading fun.

Now, for writers, we know why we need to read IN our genre — it teaches us the genre conventions and tropes. All genres have them, the things that define the genre in the readers’ head, the things they expect.

But why read outside of it? If you’re writing fantasy, how does reading mystery help you?

The best stories are the ones that resonate with people, and to do that, you need to understand people. A lot of that comes from life, but a lot of it also comes from the media we consume. Reading outside your genre broadens your horizons, which can never be a bad thing.

Aside from that, there are things to be learned from every genre. Thrillers can teach you how to up the stakes and keep your readers hanging on every word. Mysteries teach you how to mix in foreshadowing and false trails. Romances teach you how people relate to one another (and how to write a proper sex scene – I swear, everyone feels like they have to stick them in now, regardless of genre or story, and a lot of people shouldn’t…). There’s little tricks to be learned everywhere.

Plus, you can tie this back in with why readers read a variety of genres–if you always read the same thing, your writing tends to follow what you know, resulting in just more of the same. Innovation comes from trying new things and new combinations.

So don’t sell yourselves short, Squiders. Go out and read with abandon.

Converting Dreams to Stories

Last night, I had a nightmare. It was kind of a strange half-asleep, half-awake one, where there was this malicious entity staring at my husband and me while we slept from the shelves in our bedroom, and I tried to scream and couldn’t…

We don’t actually have shelves in our bedroom. Thanks, subconscious mind, now I kind of want some.

When I don’t wake up from a nightmare – or any dream, actually, where I’ve become aware of being in a dream, my brain tries to make it into a story. It will add additional characters, try out some sort of arc, and, while I am dreaming, it will seem like a great story, and I will wake up thrilled.

The problem comes when I start to try and organize it to write it down.

There’s some sort of logic disconnect between your subconscious and conscious mind, and what seems complete while asleep will become insubstantial when you try to pin it down. Details slip through your fingers, and you find more holes and missing details than you thought you would, and the whole process is very disconcerting, because you  felt like you had a complete, engaging story and it turns out that you only have a few vague impressions.

And if you do manage to get a full story out of it in the end, a lot of times it doesn’t resemble the dream story at all. I, at least, have trouble matching the feeling of a fleshed out, sense-making story to the etherealness of the dream.

Squiders, how about you? Does your brain make lovely stories for you that fall apart upon waking? Do you find it easy or hard to convert them into a real story?

Lesser Known Scifi Gems

Science fiction can, at times, seem very insular. Sometimes there seems to be a select list of things to read, depending on your particular subgenre tastes, or even just to make sure you’ve read the “Best.” There’s particular authors you’re supposed to have read, and even these days, there’s a few big name authors that everyone reads and the rest fall by the wayside.

It’s probably this way in every genre, but for some reason, I notice it more with scifi. This may just be me, but I find it easier to find a new random fantasy or mystery book just by browsing the shelves. That doesn’t work so well with scifi. It seems like it’s all big names, and the lesser names are hard to find. I can’t even think of the last time I picked up a science fiction novel off the shelf that wasn’t an Atwood or a C. Clarke or a Scalzi. (Well, Hunger Games, but that rather proves my point rather than diminishes it.)

Recently, a friend loaned me a book I’d never heard of by an author I’d never heard of, and I rather enjoyed it. It had good voice, was scarily plausible, and was a nice mix of philosophy and action. But it got me to thinking – a lot of my science fiction reading does tend to be what people tell me to read – classics, like Asimov or Bradbury, or larger, popular series like Bujold or Scalzi, or even whatever is currently “in,” like the current glut of YA dystopias.

So is the problem science fiction – or my science fiction reading habits? Do I just not know where to look for lesser-known treasures?

What are your thoughts, Squiders? Any recommendations for lesser-known gems that I should try?

Introducing the Time Quintet Re-read

For those who are staring at the title, unsure what I am talking about, the Time Quintet is a series of five books by Madeleine L’Engle, consisting of A Wrinkle in Time, The Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and An Acceptable Time. This will work slightly differently than the Harry Potter Re-read of last year, because unlike the HP books, it has been considerably longer since I’ve read any of these. I’m pretty sure I last read A Wrinkle in Time when I was in sixth grade.

I’m not going to tell you how many years ago that was.

Still, Wrinkle was one of the first true speculative fiction books I read that was concerned with being more than just the common adventure you find so often for children, and I’m excited to read it again as an adult.

Learning from the HP re-read, we’ll do one book a month, so we’ll discuss Wrinkle on August 30th.

Now, you may be saying, will we ever do a re-read of an adult series, Kit? Well, I’m not sure. The nice thing about children’s series is that they seem to be more universal – more people have read them previously. Also, enduring children’s series also tend to resonate on some level with a large number of people, making them a good study on human nature and blah blah blah.

I’ve got some in mind, however. Foundation by Asimov, maybe. Let me know if you have any ideas.

And get cracking on Wrinkle.