Archive for May, 2009

Mary Poppins versus Cthulhu, a writerly parlor game

May 27th, 2009

I just attended BayCon, the San Francisco Bay area regional science fiction convention.  It was, as always, a good chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, attend panels, and flex the brain muscles a bit.

While there, I invented a parlor game of interest to writers and fans in general.  It was inspired by this inspired blog post about matchups between heroes and villains to decide the eternal battle of good versus evil.  However, as the game evolved, it seemed a better name was needed than simply Good versus Evil or Heroes versus Villains.  Instead, taking the name from the most warped match-up that presented itself, let me present Mary Poppins versus Cthulhu.

The rules are fairly simple: You need two players, along with any number of judges and kibitzers to decide the fate of the battle for those cases where the contestants can’t agree.  Each player thinks up a hero or villain from the pages of history or literature, then on the count of three, says the name.  It is then decided which of them would win in a battle to the death, with all their powers and resources brought to bear on the problem.  Players alternate heroes and villains each round, and it’s of interest to writers because it gets you to think about characters strengths and weaknesses and the way things will logically happen in a plot. Continue Reading »

The Ghost of Fiction Past

May 21st, 2009

I have been keyboarding old stories of mine to put up on bookviewcafe.com (you all remember bookviewcafe.com, right? fiction, free or for a nominal charge, from some of the best writers around. And me, too). I have to keyboard the stories, all of them published elsewhere, because 1) some of them were published before I had a computer, and no electronic file ever existed, or 2) I lost the electronic file when my hard disk was unexpectedly replaced last year*.

It’s been interesting.  After I get a work in print form I generally read it once, then don’t read it again unless I have to do so for some reason.  And re-typing is not just re-reading: the act triggers all the editorial impulses that are generally in play when I’m working on a final edit of a story.  Do I change stuff?  Leave it alone because it’s now an Historical Document?  Six of one and eight of the other? Generally I don’t change what I’ve already written, except when I do.  But retyping has been necessary, and I’ve learned a number of useful things during that process.   Continue Reading »

Fort Freak, and Writing in the Cities You’ve Never Visited

May 14th, 2009

As before, news and a rumination.  The news is that Fort Freak, the latest volume in the ongoing Wild Cards cycle, has been announced over at George R.R. Martin’s blog, and I’m among the writers tapped to write it.

Fort Freak

Fort Freak

Aside from the good feeling of having a proposal accepted, there’s also the writer’s anxiety about writing about something you don’t know and fear of getting it wrong.  Mary Anne Mohanraj (also among the writers, and new to Wild Cards) was writing about the same thing, relative to Fort Freak being a police story, something she knows little about beyond what she’s seen on television.  My knowledge of police dealings has a slight benefit in that one of my best friends had studied to be a cop (until health issues made him change to lawyer) and his brother is a cop, and I have other friends who work in law enforcement, so I have people to run legalities by so I won’t run too far afoul of Sjöberg’s Law of Cinematic Inaccuracy.   (“Movies get everything wrong. Hacking-based movies are laughable to hackers, military-based movies are laughable to members of the armed forces, and Indiana Jones movies are laughable to archaeologists.”)  Or, as it’s recently been termed on tvtropes.org, having a story “Dan Browned,” a subset of the trope “Did Not Do the Research.”

Of course, there are sins and sins.  Television budgetary concerns can excuse Television Geography and even “The Mountains of Illinois”, but novels and short stories?  Not so much.  I’ve read short stories set in San Francisco where people had a picnic in Candlestick Park (not realizing that it’s a baseball/football stadium) or walked from Alameda to downtown SF (somehow forgetting that not only is this quite a distance, but the bay is in the way).  And these were published too.

So, I’ll confess my failing: I’ve never visited New York.  Neither state nor city.  But I’ve written stuff set there.  Most recently for my story in Busted Flush (the scene cut for pacing and plotting, not inaccuracy), but before as well.  And now I’m about to do it again.

On the plus side, I’ve at least touched Connecticut brownstone (the Flood Mansion in San Francisco is built of the stuff, imported at ruinous expense back in the day) and being familiar with the architecture of San Francisco and other cities helps, in that what was built in one city was then reproduced in other cities of the era, often by the same architects.   (Driving around Mexico City a few years ago, I was getting deja vu, thinking at times I was in parts of San Francisco or New Orleans or even downtown San Jose.)  And with Wild Cards being an alternate timeline which diverges in 1946, there are structures which were knocked down in our Manhattan which can still exist in the world of Wild Cards.  Not tipping my hand too much, but I’m currently researching  one of those, both because it’s neat in terms of alternate history to preserve something rather than destroying everything, and because if I’m pulling from museum archives and photographs, I don’t have to worry that much about someone who actually lives somewhere looking up from the book and rolling their eyes about how I’ve got it wrong.

I’ll also be running the story by some native New Yorkers, so I can get the errors caught before publication.  But right now, it’s research time.