Monday, June 30, 2008

Converting the Whole Canon of English Literature into Limericks

This is a group on Facebook. I have no idea why it tickles me so.

Joe Swarbrick
wrote on Oct 18, 2007 at 8:07 AM
Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

Prince Hamlet thought Uncle a traitor
For having it off with his mater
Avenge Dad or not?
That's the gist of the plot
And he does. Nine soliloquies later.

Go see more.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Honoring the Story

Writers I coach have to endure my exhortations to "honor the story" or "honor the characters" until, I'm certain, they would sometimes like to come and smack me. Fortunately I do most of my coaching by phone. And later, of course, they admit--sometimes grudgingly--that their stories are better for my nagging them to stick to their visions rather than taking the easy way out of story problems.

Today--this whole week, actually--I'm working from that lesson myself. At the beginning of the week, in the midst of the wheels coming (surprisingly, at least to me) off Deaclan's how-to-be-a-majordomo cart, a member of the Nimrod organization turned up so unexpectedly that he even surprised me. Like most of the tertiary characters in Affairs, the Nimrods are based on some real-life alt-history/conspiracy theory fodder; one of my great challenges in developing this novel has been taking the subjects of those theories and bringing them to life in ways that serve the overall series, the reader, and the plot of this particular novel.

I've learned not to discount those little mystery presents the muse hands me; but sometimes they mean I have to stop and rethink my plans. This was one of those situations. Suddenly I had to figure out *why* that guy was so suddenly on scene: I felt I had a handle on the agendas and constraints from which the Nimrods were operating, and this guy turning up here & now didn't fit with what I thought I knew.

So...back to my source materials. I had some background (read: alt history/conspiracy theory) that had been sitting neglected on my shelf for a while, mostly because trying to make all of those different theories line up into one coherent whole tends to make my brain explode, and when it does I must go away. But I knew exactly which pieces I could use to dig into my Nimrod motivations, and they were nice and short, so I sat down with them. At first all I was getting was nuggets of detail that will be nice for verisimilitude but not important enough to help me work out my (obviously neglected) motivational set for this organization.

Now, for better or worse, this novel is far from the only thing I'm working on right now. I am still engaged in the process of connecting Larissa's book with its readership and planning the launch, not to mention working on client projects and having a family life. So it took me until yesterday to finally run up against the thing I needed. It made a whole lot of things that had been fuzzy make sense--and it made me have to shift aspects of backstory and a few small areas of plot. It also gave me that brain-exploding feeling that working with these theories so often does. (Right before a meeting with a client. Nice timing.)

So--Oh, groan, here I go again. I am 200K into this novel, and a month late on my deadline. I don't want to have to rearrange things. Can't I just wave my magic fantasy-writer's wand and declare this difference between my fictional world and the real-world underpinnings Of No Consequence?

Yeah, I could. But honoring the real-world facts makes my story world much more believable. It was just a bit too neat to give a proper real-world sense, before. So even though it's inconvenient, I am already improving my story. And as I began to dig into the meat of the scene, to figure out what--in my updated scenario--this guy was up to, little bits of future plot that I hadn't quite worked out came into focus. And above all, it's a better ride for the reader, a better and truer story.

It's still a pain in the ass.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Excitement on copies of Shorn available!

Last night, we got the last few bugs out of the new-and-improved There are now links on the home page from which you can click straight through to our constantly-updated news feeds at MySpace and Facebook. But the real excitement is on the Shorn page, where we now have a Sample Chapter of Shorn posted, as well as a gorgeous PDF of the Map of Avelos from the book--and most exciting of all, a button you can click to order Signed Copies of the pre-release edition.

I am so excited! Wynette made everything gorgeous, as usual.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You know you're a Goth when...

First of all, full disclosure: no one has ever, to my knowledge, actually adorned my face with the trademark Goth "I'm dead" makeup. I do have a sort of unconquerable natural pallor, however.

Nevertheless I was forced to confront the inherent truth of Gothness last night: Russ Marshalek was his typical considerate self and sent me an invitation to Wordsmiths' Black-and-Red Prom event in honor of the release of Breaking Dawn. Naturally I'll be attending.

Last night I was pondering what to wear; I've got a closet full of black, of course, though I do wear other colors, too. After a bit of consideration I came up with a choice that should work for both the event and the fact that it will take place in Atlanta in August. But then I wondered how I might go about *Gothing things up*: what did I have on hand that was really, really Goth?

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I couldn't figure out how to make my planned ensemble more Goth because practically everything I wear is already Goth. Goth is like the air to me.



Apparently Shorn is not only posted but AVAILABLE on Amazon now. The book is, of course, in pre-release: scheduled for release in October. Of course I understand *how* it happened to go live on Amazon; it has to do with the handshake between Lightning Source, the printer, and Ingram, the distributor, and the subsequent handshake between Ingram and Amazon. And I don't want to give the impression that I'm complaining, because I love that people are buying during the pre-release phase. But it does feel strange that one can purchase a book on Amazon--and that book is *in stock*--before it's released.

Stuff like this is why most mortals will never understand the publishing industry.

What baffles me personally is how a book can be in pre-release and yet in stock but Lightning Source can't get the cover image uploaded despite polite but insistent nudging.

Most likely this is a sign that I will never understand the publishing industry, either.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Writing telepathy and other aberrant behaviors

Wynette has begun the process of revising her cult classic Blood is Thicker Than Water in preparation for releasing a second edition. I'm doing what I can to help, of course, because that's what we do around here. One of my tasks is to weigh in on style issues: I will be the editor of record on the second edition, which should not be construed as my having any sort of power over any part of the endeavor. :)

One of the conundra (is that a word? seems it should be. must go look... Oh dear. Forget I even had that moment. Have I mentioned I never studied Latin, though my tuition dollars have paid for a few years of the stuff in the next generation?) Ahem. One of the conundrums of writing speculative fiction--actually, a high percentage of the conundrums involved--stem from the fact that in SFF we postulate certain activities as more or less normal when we don't have common consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions to describe and discuss them.

When I edit SFF, I spend more mental energy on how to handle these issues than on the garden-variety editing required on all the many pages in your average SFF book. Do we capitalize the pronouns that refer to deities? How shall we punctuate the telepathic conversations? Do we use the same set of verbs to refer to psionic behaviors as to the corresponding mundane ones? People grow surprisingly passionate about these issues, as if they might have definitive right and wrong answers--when, should we muster the perspective to view these issues dispassionately, it becomes clear that the answers can only be definitive to that particular author and work.

Digging back into Blood is a case-in-point. We have wound up having long (not contentious, thankfully) discussions about how to present telepathic conversation. Because I was wearing my Editor Hat during these discussions, I was able to maintain a neutral stance, give the whole issue up to my standard "as long as it's consistent and comprehensible, it cannot be considered incorrect, because the CMoS has yet to render an opinion on the topic". And Wynette, whose work this is, finally made a ruling on how this particular piece of imaginative styling should work in her book. Her ruling is *correct*, because it falls within the few definitive stylistic rules we have for these sorts of things.

But as an author and an SFF geek, I'm going, "No! Wrong!!! I TOTALLY DISAGREE with the way you're doing this!" When my book comes out at the end of this year, the telepathic conversations will be presented very differently from the way Wynette is doing it--because that's how I think they should be. Because that's my work, and no one else gets to say I'm imagining incorrectly, as long as I'm consistent about it.

We must remember to be polite about these things, and not smack one another with our well-worn copies of the CMoS. Because ultimately what we don't agree about is the way we imagine these uncommon phenomena for which there are no consensual-reality labels, grammars, and stylistic conventions--let alone definitive truths. Because ultimately what we're disagreeing about is the contents of our imaginations, which it would be very silly to expect to match up in the first place.

A short detour

Well, that scene didn't turn out at all the way I expected--but it did turn out *right*. Fortunately it was a short, character- and relationship-enriching detour.

Now, back on the bus.

Avoidance Behavior

After a couple good days in the study, I have run up against a plot-point long planned, a thing I reasoned Edward would decide to do. It seemed altogether sensible until last night, when I realized what Lesle's reaction was going to be: not at all what anyone else expected (including me, btw. Duh.) but inevitable given her character.

Suddenly I am waffling about this plot point. Maybe it's right; maybe it's not. And all at once I find that there are fifty tasks I have been ignoring that must be completed Right Now. It's all avoidance behavior, of course.

Even blogging about the problem is avoidance behavior.

Time to turn off blog and just go write the scene. I can, after all, excise it later if it turns out to have been wrong...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Q&A with Publishers & Editors

Part 2 of Diane Wolfe's project is up here. A lot of really thoughtful answers. Nice work, Diane!

Happy Birthday, Wordsmiths!

Just got back from Wordsmiths' first birthday party--what a cool crowd. Got to meet more of the crew from Wordsmiths, notably Alice, who shares a bit of a Texas past; got to talk a bit with Zach and Russ; got to listen to some fun readings and a spoken-word performance by a young man named Will, who was awesome and hilarious. And I finally met Tim from Baby Got Books--who boils a mean crawfish.

And oh the crawfish! I haven't had The Real Thing since leaving Texas. Tim knows what he's doing.

Crawfish are still a negative-calorie food, and a little bit Wild Kingdom for those of us who usually eat food pre-sanitized by food processor folk. You need those hand-wipes. But the potatoes in particular are not to be missed.

Happy Birthday, Wordsmiths! What a great party!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We're up on Amazon!!!

OMG, I am squealy excited! Shorn is available on Amazon for pre-order! There's no image yet (must add getting that taken care of to my to-do list) but there's a button one can click to pre-order the book.

Unspeakably excited.

FWIW, you will be able to order a pre-release version from the Mercury Retrograde website in a few days. Genre collectible to be? Maybe...

I'll post the link for the pre-release version when we've got all the kinks out. Meanwhile, BEHOLD! We are on Amazon!!!

Shorn on Amazon

Monday, June 09, 2008

Kortnee made me do it

Yeah, it began innocently enough. Kortnee, Mercury Retrograde's resident Web 2.0 guru, has been setting up social web presences for Mercury Retrograde. We've got a way cool Myspace Page now; and today a Facebook page for Mercury Retrograde went live. Complications develop: it turns out one must create a Facebook account to see anybody's page. So I had no choice but to create my own Facebook page. By this evening, even Kortnee could see that giving me that shiny new toy had been a mistake.

I've been nothing but social since noon. Mercury's retrograde phase must be ending. And me with my novel not yet finished!

More on that anon...

Welcome to Mercury Retrograde

I am not someone who must check her horoscope first thing in the morning; as many of you know, I have essentially no *beliefs*, only suspicions and experiences and observations. One observation that will surprise no one who knows me: there is something oddly numinous about Mercury's retrograde phase, something that changes things in surprising and frequently unpredictable ways. I'm not talking about the fact that mail servers seem to be behaving badly right now, which they are; I'm not going to get into the disaster stories I'm hearing from people who had the poor judgment to attempt software upgrades during this phase. (Just don't do it: that's what you need to know.) As far as I'm concerned, the significant thing about Mercury in retrograde is the effect it has on *me*, particularly on the muse.

I am supposed to be spending a lot of bandwidth on discussing my race to finish Affairs right now: and no, I haven't forgotten, nor am I done. [Bad writer! I am seriously late on my deadline. Fortunately I know the publisher. :) ] I've simply been unable to talk about process, or about much of anything regarding my creative life. This is a well-known feature of the retrograde, at least for me. I've been working steadily--but in typical Mercury Retrograde fashion, I've fallen into a sort of communications black hole, and while there's a lot of words being conceived and written in here, they just can't seem to find their ways out beyond the event horizon to reach other people.

So, to catch you up a bit: the muse woke up at the beginning of this cycle and decided that nothing would do but to drop everything and go back to the beginning of the novel, and start building in that neglected subplot-and-a-half. Classic Mercury Retrograde stuff, actually. I finally finished that over the weekend; at last I am ready to work through the final section before the climax. My word-count estimate was Just Dead Wrong, as usual: I am currently at 197K words, give or take, and I *still* estimate about 20K more. Maybe more than that, actually.

Yeah, I can't estimate.

The most surprising statistic to me, since I've spent all this time working on a subplot that was all about Deaclan: the PoV proportion is still hugely tilted in favor of Lesle. Which seems appropriate, since this was supposed to be her novel in the first place. As of last night, 68% of the pages thus far are written from her PoV. Yes, I'm a geek, and I do chart and conduct the occasional structural analysis: I need to do this, just to control for how often I get hijacked by characters. One more observation for the structure geeks; the rest of you can look away lest your eyes burn: this novel is turning out to have a Syd-Field-classic 3-act structure. My Act 2 has 5 reversals, not counting the reversal into Act 2 or the reversal (not yet written) into Act 3. Of those mid-act reversals, one is driven by Deaclan, the rest by Lesle; which, I guess, is proportionally correct. So maybe my plot is working. :)

I'm feeling a sort of existential insecurity about this novel at present: not *can I finish?* because I know I can; I could tell you exactly what the major plot points are, for the rest of the novel. It's more "Oh, gods, what if it SUCKS?"

That's normal for me, too. I'll just have to keep writing and see how I feel about it when it's complete, and pass it along to my alpha readers, who I know I can trust not to let me embarrass myself in public. :)

Q&A with Publishers & Editors

Diane Wolfe, author of the YA Series "Circle of Friends", is one of the organizers of a writer's group called TheWritersMeow on the DeviantArt forums--and she and I have an e-list in common. She recently organized a sort of web-panel of publishers & editors to answer questions from TheWritersMeow members. Some good questions, and some interesting answers. And yes, I was on the panel.

This is the first of two installments in Diane's panel report:

I must say I love it when writers take the time to be smart about the business side of things.