Random Blurbs of Stuff

I had thought to post a long-drawn out post about the nature of romance in spec fiction, or the persistence of dragons as a story mechanism.  Between you and me, I just don't have the endurance right now.  I am only posting this to take a few moments of break time from editing my novel.  So here is some random stuff I came across this week:

- First things first:  I'm about halfway through the editing process on Omega Mage.  I've added over 5K words and cleaned up a bunch of inconsistencies and streamlined my character pool.  One was deleted outright, two others merged.  I think that tightened up the interactions.

- Interesting read
here from a member of the slush pile at Shimmer.  Decent information; remember, dear friends, we all have to get through the slush pile in some way, shape or form.

- I was a slush reader once, for
Absolute X-Press publishing.  I tried to be one at Fantasy Magazine but didn't make the grade.  I would love to do it again, for any spec fiction venture, large or small.  I've been keeping my eyes open but no new opportunities have cropped up yet.  If anyone sees one....  Also, I recommend that anyone have the chance to do it, do so  (that is, after you've hooked me up!).  Very educational. 

- I saw over at
Neil Gaiman's blog that this years marks the tenth anniversary since American Gods released.  A decade.  That floored me.  It doesn't seem as though I have really been writing all that long but this fall marks six straight years.  Given that time span, my production has been absolutely pathetic.  Time indeed flies on unrecoverable wings, and I need to spend it better.  But read AG if you haven't:  it's worthwhile for *your* time.

- I'm still stuck on a concept from many, many speculative publications.  In submission instructions, they say, "Speculative elements need to be integral to the story.  If the speculative elements can be removed without altering the story in a significant way, it's not speculative."  Or some variant thereof.  I bring this up because I see more and more what I see labeled as "spec fiction" going against this grain.  Case in point.  A few weeks back over at
Strange Horizons, a story was posted called, "The Holder's Black-Haired Daughter." (Story here.)  While I enjoyed the story, I think it could have been placed in our British India or late seventeenth-century Caribbean with nothing more than a title swap - i.e., changing a few names and descriptions out.  I guess the editors didn't want to pass on a good story and I don't blame them for that.   I just wonder what spec fiction story got left off to make room for it.

- If you have ever played an MMO before (If you don't know what "MMO" means, then you haven't), you should check out the web-comic
The N00b.  It's cute, clever, and the material is instantly relate-able to online gamers.  With the episode list on the left side of the page, you can go to any of the past comics and instantly resume exactly where you left off, vice paging past a bunch you had already seen (Girl Genius, I am looking in your direction!).

- I have another entry coming that I promised long ago.  I got very sidetracked and never finished, had to start over, and never finished the second attempt.  Third time is a charm.  It's coming.  Based on last fall's response, should be fun.

That's it for now.  Back to work.  'Til next time, friends.

Follow Up - Nasty Nebula Naughtiness

So ....

My last post was a link to the most recent Nebula Awards.  As I was tooling about the blogosphere this evening, I come across Nick Mamatas's journal entry on the same subject.  I read NM's blog at times.  Politically, we're about on opposite ends of the spectrum but he's got some interesting things to say about the writing world and displays a certain wit that I find amusing.  Anyhow, he made some commentary regarding the Nebula Awards, which you can read
here.  There was also a vigorous discussion among his commenters.  Not having read the novels that were entered, I can't comment on my opinion of who should have won ... but I'm trying to divine the meaning behind the final comment:

But at least SFWA managed to, for the most part, hold back the tide of black and brown people on the nominating ballot, amirite?! Phew!

Ah.  Silly me, I thought these things were decided by merit.  Even if Nick's preferences are 180 degrees out of sync with the winners, someone thought those who were nominated and/or won deserved to do so.  Nothing like taking a shot at your entire peer group, accusing them of being frothing-at-the-mouth John Bull types.

It's easy to assign racism / sexism / nameyourism to any outcome one doesn't like.  It's also sloppy thinking and frankly, comes off as whining.  I expected better than this tired meme with which the literary community self-flagellates, consistently and without end.

Fortunately, the post / comments also made reference to actual writing reasons why the winning novel should not have won.  Otherwise, I might have been irritated enough to make a post myself.  I haven't been in a good fight in a while, so it could have been fun.  And in any event, I am now determined to read the nominee list and decide on my own (yay, self-determination!).

Other blog entries - such as 
John Scalzi's, were calmer and more complimentary.

Nebula Award Winners Posted

A couple days back, SFWA posted the 2011 Nebula Award winners which are - I believe - voted on by the members of SFWA themselves.

Here's the run-down:

- Winning Novel: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Spectra)
- Winning Novella: “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’10)
- Winning Novelette: “That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)
- Winning Short Story (tie): “Ponies” by Kij Johnson (Tor.com 1/17/10) and “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” by Harlan Ellison (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)
- Ray Bradbury Award (best speculative motion picture): Inception
- Andre Norton Award (best sci/fantasy for young adults): I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)


I haven't read all of these.  I've heard a lot of good buzz about Connie Willis, so I may have to add the winners to my reading list.  I did read and get a hearty chill from "Ponies," which was two orders of magnitudes better than the last Kij Johnson tale I read.  And old man Harlan ... still out there winning awards.

There's hope for us all yet.

The Art of Plotting, Part IV - Tying It All Together

Okay, I've been overdue on this for a while.  Life-n-shit has been busy, you know?

Anyway, I said I would get back to this, so here I am: plotting, and how to do it.  So far ( in parts Prelude, One, Two, and Three, respectively), we talked about the components of the story, how the characters and dialogue tie in, and some of my favorite plot devices.  But what constitutes a whole plot?  And how does the author put together a compelling story?

Beats the hell out of me.

No, really.  Who knows what makes a good plot?  It's all subjective anyway, right?  My whole point was to provide my readers - all three of you - some thoughts about plotting and I think I did that.  So, we're even, right?

(Muse:  You louse.  You duped people into reading this drivel, and promised them something useful!)


Sigh.  Okay.

Start with a Plan.  Look, I'm not saying you have to write a five-hundred word summary for every two thousand word story you write.  Nor am I saying (as I have seen some writing texts insist upon) that an outline is a requirement to tell a tale.  But I do think that when you start, you should have some idea - flimsy or firm - of where you're going.  Yes, you can just start writing and see where a tale goes, and possibly produce a nice story.  But in my vast, rump-sized experience, it helps to have a plan.  You can take off with naught but a concept but I think it leads to more false starts, dead ends, and general thrashing around than otherwise.  Put it like this:  if you're building a wood cabinet, you can grab a pile of lumber and start sawing or you can draw up a plan.  Maybe there is no need to draw up a plan for a simple shelf ... but it still helps to know what you want the shelf to look like before you start.

Hook the Reader.  Now that the plan is underway, sock the reader in the nose with a left hook.  Lead with the a tense power struggle, brilliant dialogue, a wonderful description of a setting, or a lurid recounting of something so unbelievably filthy the reader will have no choice but to keep going.  It's said that editors expect a pretty quick start to a story.  So do readers.

Pace Yourself.  Okay, the reader is hooked, the story is proceeding.  You wanna build a natural crescendo to the story's climax.  You know, there's a reason every pop song goes:  stanza, chorus, stanza, chorus, guitar solo, final stanza.  That's the natural rhythm and build up to the end of the song.  You want the same build up to the end of the story.  You want to tease the reader along, heighten their anxiety, with hints of foreshadowing and thrusts of tension.  Get the reader trembling with anticipation until their fingers are gripping the pages with white-knuckled joy and then BAM the big pay off !!

(Muse:  Those terms are .. awfully sexual, aren't they?)
(Me.  Only a naughty person would think that ... a naughty person covered with whip cream and wearing a ball gag.)
(Muse:  Uhh...)
(Me.  Yeah.)

Coitus aside, the point is this:  Find a natural peak to the story and build the events up to that point.

Resolve Quickly.  Once you've hit the climax, have a cigarette.  And end the story quickly.  This dovetails into the previous point.  If you have the natural peak of the story too soon, the reader will start to loose interest.  I've read too many stories that drag on for thousands of words after what feels like the emotional or action high point of the story.  Once the character has vanquished the evil, solved the world's problems, and otherwise ceased to be interesting, wrap it up and move on.  I mean, they aren't going to be developing any more after that, right?  Unless you are writing a serial.  Then move to the next episode.

Okay. 

I think that concludes my take on plotting.  Did any of that make sense?  Did any of it help anyone at all?  If nothing else, I think I helped myself by organizing my thoughts.

Tomorrow, I start the Omega Mage revision.  Should be a hoot.

All I am saying ... is give new material a chance

So....

So, as I am casually trolling about this evening, I see yet another re-make is in the offing.  Nothing most people would think of; the movie in question is Fright Night.  The original, released in 1985, was a horror-comedy, and featured a cast of mostly second-rate actors (the highest profile actor in the movie was Roddy McDowell, best known for his role as Dr. Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes).  A few minutes research revealed this is old news but it's the first time I've seen it.

Just as well, as upon reading it, I threw up in my mouth.  Then I swore.  At length.

I have to ask, already knowing the answer:  is Hollywood's idea factory so broken that all they can do is re-run half-baked ideas from three decades ago?  Look, I like the original Fright Night in the same way I like a ballpark hot dog:  it's simple, it's familiar, and it's not too heavy.  There is certainly nothing exciting about the plot, dialogue, or special effects.  It was fun for an evening but nothing that anyone would call memorable.  So why, movie executives - why spend resources remaking this movie?  This is the best you think you can do?

I think that's a shame, because there is an absolute wealth of storytelling skill in the speculative fiction writing world.  HBO is doing Game of Thrones and as I referenced a few posts back, someone told me is was the best show on television.  I haven't seen it to pass judgment but the observation lingers; why couldn't George R.R. Martin try his hand at writing a movie screenplay?  Why hasn't anyone asked him to?  Kij Johnson writes some bizarre short stories that are well-received - many of which could be a decent short feature.  With today's special effects, Ringworld would probably make a kick-ass film.  None of this counts the thousands of unsung creators with creative writing chops.  For Christ's sake, if someone can make a movie series out of Eragon, then there is hope for any speculative work.

That is, if Hollywood would take a risk on it.  By nature, the movie-making industry seems risk averse.  (Come to think of it, most of the entertainment industry is - which is why they keep pumping out the same crap).  How's that working out for them?

Well, according to
this chart, US ticket sales for 2011 are on course for their lowest total since 1995, and lowest revenues since 2001 (though revenues can be a deceptive measure, between price hikes and stuff like 3D surcharges).  I'd say, it's not working out too well.

You know, I am not against remakes specifically.  Every once in a while, the remake will turn out better than the original.  But there's certainly nothing virtuous or creative about it.  And this leads me to the point:  why, oh why, with all the creative talent out there in the world, are they recycling crap that didn't do well in the first place?  Take a chance, Hollywood.

Or fold up and die.

Whosover holds this hammer ....

"... if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

So reads the entire quote, straight from the original draft of
Journey Into Mystery #83, the 1962 comic which introduced us to the Marvel version of the Norse-mythology-inspired Thor.  Fifty years have passed since that fateful summer.  I've been a fan of the character for many moons - probably because it was a natural meld with my fantasy/sci-fi reading schedule.

I bring this up since the movie version of Thor hit the theaters about a week ago.  Thor is the latest segment in the Marvel studios build-up to The Avengers next year.   I had some down time on Monday so I decided to take it in.  To answer your unspoken question, no, I did not put on a red cape, winged helmet and carry a claw hammer with me.

Those stay in the footlocker.

The titular character is a prince of Asgard, the realm of the Gods.  Nestled in the branches of the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, Asgard is connected to the other parts of the 'Nine Realms' - including Midgard (Earth) and Jotunheim (realm of the giants) - by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.  (An explanation of the realms can be found
here.)  Thor and his brother Loki are in line for the throne of Asgard; Thor is eventually chosen by his father Odin but an intrusion by frost giants leads to a series of ugly events, resulting in Thor being cast out of Asgard.

I won't post any spoilers but readers of the comic can probably guess the major turns of plot; they aren't all that surprising.  The acting is passable, and the script is Shakespearean to a fault.  However, I give the special effects a superb grade; the visuals of Asgard and the cosmos around it are painted in a wonderful palette and are a visual feast.  The characters are believable and quite likable; Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) is sure to provoke some speculative eye-narrowing in the female viewers (or as Mrs. Axe put it, "Oh yeah, he's hot!").  The dialogue flows well, serves the greater purpose, and in general, no words are wasted.

Familiar characters from previous Marvel movies - Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Gregg Clark as SHIELD Agent Coulson - reprise their roles.  Perceptive fans of the Marvel universe might just spot some other well-known characters in the background.  Oh, and always, make sure you stay until after the credits for a bonus scene.

Overall, I enjoyed Thor quite a bit.  I think the gold standard is still The Dark Knight, and even though I am a massive fan of the character, Thor wasn't quite that good.  It didn't break any new ground in the comic movie genre but it is solid, entertaining fare.

I give it a B.  Non-fans of comic movies can pass.  If you enjoyed Iron Man, I 'spect you will enjoy this one too.

Captain America is out in a month, The Avengers next year.  Hell, next year also has The Dark Knight Rises, and the Spider-Man reboot.  The future is so bright, I need to wear shades.

Pheww ... I did it.

Wow.  Almost killed me, but I finished.  The first draft of Omega Mage is officially done, as of 1030PM central daylight time today.  I did about 7K words this weekend, to finish up.

It's done - a fully complete novel.  Not the most advanced accomplishment, but considering I've been at this a while, I'm glad to get through it.

A little word count discrepancy:  since I normally don't type in Microsoft Word, I use an online Java tool to track my word count (found
here).  That tool has my word count at 87K.  I did a count in word, and it came up with 83K.  So looking at about a 5% difference.  No biggie; I wanted to get over 80K, and since I have some material to add during my next draft, it should be fine.

In any event, I am just glad to get one version finished.  I need to let it sit for a least a week away before I start to revise, so time to get caught up on some other things.  

Onward!

Okay, here we go

All right.  I have the next two and half days off.  

The goal:  Finish my first draft of Omega Mage.  I have beer, caffeine, snacks, no distractions - and about 10K words to go.

I'll check in on Monday and let you know how it went.

Daily Update #19

Well, hell.

Last Thursday I managed to torpedo my left knee.  One step during my run, everything was fine; the next step felt like someone slid a stiletto under my kneecap.  A few visits to the doctor and a bunch of x-rays later, I spent my weekend with my left leg in a brace and motrin in my bloodstream every twelve hours.  It's an old injury to the tendon that keeps cropping up but this is worse than the last few.  The doctor today told me we're going to try physical therapy first.  If that doesn't work, most of the remaining roads lead to surgery.  That knee already has bad calcium build-up and early symptoms of arthritis.  Getting older sucks and that running shit will absolutely kill you.

So what else is happening?

- After my 3.5K weekend, I'm just shy of 80K words on Omega Mage.  Getting close to finishing the first draft.  I want to get this story knocked out, as I've been dragging it out for months and need to finish the damn thing.  I actually have a plot outlined for a three book series and I keep telling myself I can't start on it until I finish this one.  I meant to work on it tonight but just couldn't focus; I did work on some patterns for Mrs. Axe to use in her stained glass.  She might even have found an outlet to sell her work.  At some point, I will post her best fantasy works here.

- I got two rejections over the last two weeks.  No biggie, I'll just turn them this week and get them back out.  After last night's news about Osama bin Laden meeting his maker, I jotted down a quick flash piece inspired by that piece of news (no, not a chest-beating revenge fantasy piece).  Not sure I like it, as it might be construed as being sympathetic to bin Laden, which could not be further from the truth.

- I'm still waiting with baited breath on one piece to come back.  It was a re-write request, which is one of the few I've received.  I think that ramps up the pressure, you know - you're this close, and just need to get over the hump.  Well, I took the story in a slightly different direction, reduced the size by 50%, and cleaned up a bunch of the bad verbiage.  No word yet and I is nervous.

- Thor starts this Friday.  He was my favorite comic character when I was a kid, so I'll have to find time to see it.  Nobody on this planet would guess my second favorite Marvel character, not even by looking at my old comic collections.  Sadly, that character could never carry their own movie, so I'll just have to keep the bad fan fiction alive in my head.

There we are.  Yeah, I know I need to finish my series of posts on plotting.  I will, sooner or later. 

Text-less wonders who hate for no reason

So....

I was told today that I need to watch "Game of Thrones" on HBO.  My source, who shall remain unnamed (to protect their good name, and forestall jokes about their height, which is minimal) conveyed that it is, quote "the best show on television."  Considering this individual is not by default a fan of fantasy, I thought that was high praise. 

Then my source proceeded to chew me out for not having texting ability on my cell service, making me too hard to get a hold of.

(Muse:  Wait, weren't you just bitching out people for pooh-poohing e-readers?  And you don't even embrace a lesser technology?  Right, no hypocrisy there.  I spit on your text-less name, you hillbilly doofus neanderthal weasel.)

God, I hate that @*#&%( muse.

I also wondered - for the millionth time, on various subjects - what was wrong with me.

The reason for my self-examination today was pretty straightforward.  I read Game of Thrones, which was Martin's first book in the "Song of Fire and Ice" series.  It's relatively standard fantasy fare:  medieval intrigue, lots of battling, mass sex and death, and a supernatural menace threatening everyone else.  It should have been right up my alley.  But for some reason, it left me colder than a witch's ... well, yeah.

I understand that not everyone likes the same things and nor should they; what a bland, homogenized art / literature / movie / music industry we would have if people did not have divergent tastes.  But I should have liked Game of Thrones.  I wanted to.  The writing was good, the setting consistent, the characters fairly believable.  For crying out loud, inside the first hundred pages, a child is thrown from a high tower to his near-death for witnessing .. ahem, something kinky.  I should eat that up.

For some reason, the whole thing never quite clicked.  That's very frustrating and makes me extremely nervous.  I could write a killer novel, be published, sell a million copies - and still have a nominal fantasy fan walk up and say, "Meh, it just didn't do anything for me.  Reads fine but no chemistry."  I know that not everyone likes my writing but I rely on feedback to tell me how to improve it.  I'd rather have someone tell me they didn't and explain why - than give me a shrug without being able to cite a reason.  I wouldn't want to look George R. R. Martin in the face and say I didn't like his book without being able to tell him why.

The feedback for Game of Thrones (the book) is generally good.  85-90% of the reviewers on Amazon give the first book 3-5 stars.  I read through some of the negative comments and nothing really clicked there either (as to why I might not like it).  This is opposed to the reviews for, say, Eragon, when I found plenty to agree with the bad reviews of both movie and books (i.e. from one review of Eragon: "Anne McCaffrey, who's written two of my favorite children's fantasy books Dragon Song and Dragon Singer, said that she gave it full praise. She must have been on acid. ")

Anyway, I'm so confused.  I'll give the TV show a look but I'll always have that nagging worry in the back of my brain.  If I don't like it, I won't keep watching ... but if so, I hope can come up with a better reason than a shoulder shrug.