Archive for December, 2006

You May Ask Yourself, “How Did I Get Here?”

December 29th, 2006

In the “First Novels” thread, Mitch asks:

What do you do when you’re well into your first draft and you find you want to make a significant change in the story?

I started writing a novel-in-progress as a high fantasy, but I realize now that it’s better as soft science fiction with a low-tech society. Also, I thought I wanted the novel to be about a thug with a social conscience and mission, now, I realize it would be better as a story about a thug who acquires a social conscience and religion.

I guess what I’ll do is write a few notes to myself and just keep going forward with the new backstory and story line in mind, then revise the beginning when I’ve hit the end of the story. If that doesn’t seem to be working, I’ll revise from the very beginning.

But I’m curious to see what the Seasoned Pros would do and recommend in this situation. Or do Seasoned Pros even run into this situation — is this a mistake only a beginner makes?

My two cents: This is absolutely not a “beginner’s mistake.” So much so that I want to highlight it out in front.

To my mind, this is a novel coming to life.

Continue Reading »

Christmas Story

December 24th, 2006

I meant to post this yesterday, on the solstice.

Consider it a sort of Christmas card to the blog.

“The Longest, Darkest Night”
by Lois Tilton

The little white lights, like stars.

There is a thin crust of icy snow on the ground. I hear it crunch under my feet. The air is still, crisp and silent. This is my favorite season of the year, the longest night. Somehow I almost feel … there only seems to be one word to describe it – alive.

In this weather I can pull my hood up over my head and wrap a scarf around my face without looking suspicious. To walk like this, out in the open street, is liberating, exhilarating. My step quickens without urgency. I have hours, the whole long night ahead of me.

I enjoy looking at the lights. Almost every house has a tree in the window, and most of the shrubbery outside is illuminated, too. On the corner – a magnificent spruce at least twenty feet high. There must be a thousand white lights.

I can remember the Christmas trees in our parlor when I was a child: those few minutes on Christmas Eve while the candles were lit, the glorious blaze of light. Oh, it was beautiful. And so painstaking to achieve, fastening each little holder, making sure the flame couldn’t touch another branch …

I hear voices up ahead, and I instinctively seek the shadows. It’s a group of children, boys heading home with skates and hockey sticks over their shoulders, strong and vital. I let them pass. Too many of them, and it’s early yet. Besides, I’m enjoying my walk.

A solitary jogger comes past me, stripes flashing silver on her sweatsuit’s arms and legs. The warm fog of her breath hangs in the crisp air, and I can sense the heat and sweat of her exertion, the strong, healthy pulse of blood through her body. I think, if she keeps going into the park, I’ll follow. But instead she turns onto another street, lit by the headlights as she runs against the traffic. I shrug and keep walking. There’ll be another, later on.

I think I hear a radio somewhere ahead, playing Christmas carols. Then I turn around a corner and see them – about two dozen people standing in a rough semicircle in front of a house on the next block, all wearing coats and boots and gloves. Singing.

I’m amazed. A caroling party! I can remember doing this, so long ago. Before …

I watch them, curious, as they finish the carol and move on to the next house, laughing as they get into position. There is a pause, then a woman’s voice begins to sing, and in a moment the rest are joining in: Silent night, holy night …

They go from house to house, closer to where I stand watching, listening. I’m not sure just what I’m doing here. There are twenty of them, at least. It’s late enough now that I’m starting to feel my hunger coming to life. I should be heading back to the shadows of the park, waiting for a solitary man out walking his dog, or a kid taking the shortcut home.

Instead, I’m standing here. It’s not that the singing is all that good. But it isn’t so bad, either, and most of them seem to know all the words to the verses. They’ve obviously rehearsed this, at least once or twice. I find it astonishing, in today’s world, that people would still do this simple sort of thing.

The stars in the sky looked down where he lay …

I glance upward, into the deep black of the sky. They still do.

But now the carolers are crossing the street, coming my way, and I know I’ve waited here too long, I can’t afford to draw attention to myself, let myself be seen. But I still don’t move as they assemble again in front of the brick colonial on the corner, not fifty feet from the tree where I’m standing in the shadow, and the leader begins the first notes of “O Holy Night.” The key she’s chosen is a little too high for most of the singers, and the song is a little ragged. I find myself silently forming the words along with her: the stars are brightly shining …

The thing that I’ve become has lost the capacity for tears. Yet I feel a deep melancholy welling up in my chest, the more painful because it has no means of release. My throat aches. A few yards from me the voices are falling away on the higher notes. The leader’s soprano is almost alone as she reaches the line: O hear the angel voices …

Then, without willing it, I hear my own tenor joining in, supporting her. O night divine!

Her eyes dart in delighted surprise toward the parkway where I’m standing in the tree’s shadow. Most of the others turn around to stare, but a few join in on the final notes. I can see the leader hesitate, but then she begins the more obscure second verse, and I’m with her, I still remember the words.

But it’s my voice that I can barely believe, even as I hear myself. Not in over a hundred years.

But the song comes to an end, and the leader turns around and hurries in my direction. I suddenly realize the tremendous reckless foolishness of what I’m doing, exposing myself this way. I’ve pulled my scarf down from my face so the words won’t be muffled, and now I pull it up again, shivering as if I were cold. I’ve schooled myself over the years not to flinch away from their eyes, but I’m still not ready for this encounter.

The woman is smiling – friendly, welcoming. I can sense the warmth of brandy on her breath and a suggestion of nutmeg – eggnog. Her cheeks are slightly flushed with it, and the cold, and the happiness of what we’ve just done, but the flush is blood, and the closeness of her is flooding my senses.

“That was lovely! We’d be so glad to have you join us,” she’s saying, but I back away a step, from the others surrounding her, the bloodwarmth of their presence, almost overwhelming.

“No,” I say, trying to keep my face in the shadow, “no, it’s already too late, I have to go …”

I hurry away, back toward the darkness and safety of the park. My hunger is aroused now, my senses are acute, but deep inside I’m shaken. The echo of the song, the thrill of the high, clear notes ringing in the air – had I really done that? I try to clear my throat, but all I manage is a constricted croak. After so many years …

It doesn’t matter. Nothing has changed. The night is silent. The loudest sound comes from the slow heartbeats of a nest of squirrels dormant in the branches of a nearby locust tree. I cross slowly to the other side of the park beyond the frozen lake. The floodlights where the hockey players had been skating are dark now. Everyone has gone home.

No. I hear them now, the sound of running shoes – crunch, crunch, hitting the snow-crusted pavement. Coming closer, the breath pumping in and out of his lungs, the warmth of it. A man in strong condition, his breathing is regular as he jogs, even in this cold. Plain gray sweatsuit, no reflective stripes, a navy watch cap pulled down over his ears.

I see where the path goes past a stand of trees, a good place for shadows. My hunger is working in me now. I pull the scarf away. By the time he sees my face, it will be too late.

A midnight clear. The stars in the sky look down, silent and bright and cold.

Where he lies. In the bloodstained snow.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

copyright 1991 by Lois Tilton

Why we read imaginative fiction

December 22nd, 2006

I found Ursula Leguin’s article http://www.newstatesman.com/200612180040
entitled Imaginary Friends well worth reading. I think this is what many of us try to articulate when we hear, “Oh, my kids read fantasy. I prefer real stories.”

Carol

J.K. Rowling Website — Very Interactive

December 21st, 2006

The website also provides a difficult interactive that allows you to learn the name of the forthcoming and final Harry book.It doesn’t access very well, either because there’s something wrong with the links, or because it is heavily used.But here are the instructions for that part of it, courtesy of today’s NY Times.  Remember to have your audio enabled.  It’s pretty good stuff.

[ “Meanwhile, she set up a test for her Potter fans.

If you go to jkrowling.com, click on the eraser and you will be taken to a room — you’ll see a window, a door and a mirror.  (By my own experience this link doesn’t work, you have to get there via the one I provided above; nor does the eraser thingie work.)

If you go to , click on the eraser and you will be taken to a room — you’ll see a window, a door and a mirror. In the mirror, you’ll see a hallway. Click on the farthest doorknob and look for the Christmas tree. Then click on the center of the door next to the mirror and a wreath appears. Then click on the top of the mirror and you’ll see a garland.

Look for a cobweb next to the door. Click on it, and it will disappear. Now, look at the chimes in the window. (All of this works, by my experience, up to here — then it just quits working; the key doesn’t appear.  Your cursor on the door knob turns the knob, but nothing else happens.) Click on the second chime to the right, and hold it down. The chime will turn into the key, which opens the door. Click on the wrapped gift behind the door, then click on it again and figure out the title yourself by playing a game of hangman.” ]

However, by now you all already know the title of the last book is: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 

Love, C.

BS – G Or … Stilettos in Space

December 17th, 2006

A while back I finished watching the first season of the renoed-for-the-contempo-world BS – G .  O.K.  Have I got this right?  This is really Bull Shit Galactica?  This is Neo Cons Galactica?   With that leering, snarky lust for sluts in stilettos that neo cons like Gingrich think are really women?

Sheesh, the president and her followers believe in their ‘gut,’ rather than rationality for making decisions.  They are determined to go after the mythical earth just like the neocons’ guts told them that Weapons of Mass Destruction were in Iraq, because — THEY SAID SO.  So much preposterous pseudo mystical bull shit in this show that it makes the narrative implausible at best, as implausible as what’s been fed the nation out of the Oval Office for years now.

And women in the show — ye ghods and leetle fishies!  Have you ever seen such a line-up of female stereotypes in your life from the fucked up self-destructive , 6, who doesn’t even merit a NAME?
      

The femme fatale even comes in two flavors: pole dancing porno wet dream blonde and mysterious Asian sweetheart, who betrays the good honest white guy with her wiles.  Additionally, we have the military wife stereotype, Colonel Tigh’s aggressively promiscuous, cheating alcoholic enabler blonde bombshell.  President Laura Roslin (and to be sure you get she’s female, she has not one but TWO female names) is filled with fooky visions from her breast cancer lotuslala therapy.  She’s as much a school teacher as Laura Bush was ever a librarian.  Her advisor, like Nancy Reagan’s, is a clarivoyant  — AND just about the ONLY BLACK PERSON in the cast.  (No black Cylons were evidently created either ….)  The other black person in the cast opens her mouth so easily to the ministrations of the president’s aide trying to get inside info on the fleet commander, Adama.

The Cylons are monotheist terrorist genocidal maniacs, whilst our good white humans are — get this! worshippers of old Greek gods and goddesses, among other lalala sounding powers — and let us not go into that Mormon cosmology the show uses as a structural organizing principle, as well as some sort of political breakdown.  What muddy mess of faux mysticism this is.

Bah! Humbug!
Does Season 2 get better?  Is there any reason for me to watch Season 2? Â

So far, sir, this is no Babylon-5.  But this is just exactly the scifi channel quality for sure.  Blech.

Love, C.

“The Knight’s Tale”

December 16th, 2006

Speaking of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, that poetic tale of a Arthurian Christmas wonders — and the British Library —  here’s this from the UK Guardian:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of the finest surviving examples of Middle English poetry, but little is known about the author – except hints that he came from the north of England. How could fellow poet and Northerner Simon Armitage resist the challenge of translating this grisly story for a modern audience?

The article explains very well why Vaquero and I have read this poem aloud to each other over the course of the Nights Before and After Christmas during most of the years we’ve been married.

Continue Reading »

First public taste of new Wild Cards stories

December 12th, 2006

It’s a lot of fun working in a shared world series, making new characters, borrowing other people’s characters, getting to see what other people do with your characters.

Laura Mixon and myself are both authors for the Wild Cards series. I’ve gotten to look at her new character, both bio and scenes (but I’ll leave her to drop hints and particulars). I’ve also been very pleased to see my own new character, Rosa Loteria, showing up for various scenes and cameos. None of which I can reveal as yet, of course, since George R.R. Martin is still editing the book–and some things have to stay a surprise for publication–but I can point out Daniel Abraham’s new character, Jonathan Hive, aka Bugsy, and point everyone over to the first public glimpse of him and several other characters in the preview of Daniel’s story “Jonathan Hive Sells Out!”

I’m really looking forward to reading the whole thing.

Pacing: into the wilderness

December 11th, 2006

This is less in the nature of an essay and more in the nature of a brief exploratory mission. I’m thinking aloud, and I hope you will join in with your own opinions, thoughts, and variations on a theme.

For the moment I will define pacing as the forward momentum of the narrative.

A related term is ‘narrative drive,’ which I define (today, at this hour) as the author’s command of your attention and your emotional engagement in the story.

Good pacing draws a reader forward through the narrative without the reader ever sitting back to twiddle her thumbs or wonder what’s for dinner.

Poor pacing leaves a reader wondering ‘what’s for dinner, anyway?’

Pacing is not more and more events thrown down in front of the reader. All-action all-the-time, wham bam There’s a Gun! does not necessarily constitute forward momentum in any way except for the breakneck speed with which events are presented to the reader and then moved off the page. I admit that your mileage may vary; some readers will be engaged by this form of storytelling, but I can’t describe it or analyze it because I can’t write it or read it.

These days my current theory is that narrative is all about balance.

Pacing is a balancing act between moving the plot – the physical or emotional events – and everything else that goes into creating a substantial narrative: the landscape, the characters, the philosophy or thematic elements, the musing and hammering that creates the foundation.

So here’s my question to you all:

How does it work?

How do you as a writer create pacing that keeps the reader with you?

As a reader, what elements, in what balance, keep you moving forward through the narrative?

20 Lines That Could Have Dramatically Changed “The Lord of the Rings”

December 8th, 2006

  1. Gandalf: “Before you decide whether we should go through the Mines of Moria, Frodo, I should warn you that there’s a 30-foot-tall flame-spewing demon servant of the ancient god Morgoth hanging out down there. Just thought you’d want to know that.”
  2. Gandalf with a light saberPippin: “You want a song, Denethor? All right, stand back everybody — here’s a little number from NWA called ‘Fuck Tha Police.’”
  3. Sauron: “I know it’s preposterous, Witch-King. But we’ve got more than enough orcs here to wipe out Gondor. Post a thousand Uruk-hai by the lava pit on Mount Doom, just in case. Humor me.”
  4. Frodo: “You’re right, Sam. Let’s tie Gollum up and leave him here in Emyn Muir. No, wait, I’ve got a better idea — let’s torture the slimy bastard.”
  5. Merri: “No, actually, running from screeching Black Riders in the middle of the night doesn’t sound like our idea of fun. Come on, Pippin, we’re outta here. There’s a barrel of pipeweed with our names on it back in Hobbiton.”
  6. Aragorn: “You little hairy bastards are much too stupid to be trusted with that ring. Hand it over and go home. I’ll take it to Rivendell already — you’re just slowing me down.”
  7. Eowyn: “Actually, Arwen sounds kind of cute. Do Dunedain Rangers practice polyamory?” Continue Reading »

The Joys of Foreign Publishing

December 4th, 2006

I thought I’d start a topic here for gripes about foreign publishers.  I am having a bellyful currently with the French, the Russians, and possibly the Germans — though the last is the fault of the German agent, not the publishers, most likely.

First off, of course, my Russian publisher doesn’t pay.   They seem to have no intention of paying, in fact.  They’ve brought out at least 10 books and not one ruble have I received.  They did send me copies of 5 of the books though.

My French publisher has brought out 2 books and paid for one.  I have not received a single copy of the books, though I suspect they’re afraid to send them, since I can read French.  Their translator changed Nevyn’s name.  Yes, that’s right — the focus character who ties the entire series together is now Persaune, not Nevyn.  The idiots thought “Nevyn” was English and thus needed translating.  I do not have high hopes for the quality of the translations, therefore.

The Germans killed their entire fantasy line two years ago, and no one bothered to tell me.  Yet some of the books still seem to be in print, according to amazon.de.

Finally, we have the Italian government in combination with our own dear IRS.  This has nothing to do with the publishers, Editrices Nord, themselves, who have always treated me well.  But the Italian tax people, though a signatory to various tax treaties, will keep 25% of the monies owed me unless they get a certain form from the IRS by a certain date.  The IRS is now charging $35 in a “user fee” for this form — and it will take them 45 days to get me one.

I think I’m going to become a Zen nun.  It will be easier than dealing with all this . . .

How are such matters  going with the rest of you?

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