Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 30, 2009 -- 5:33 p,m.

Colleen McCullough, author of the Masters of Rome series, which I quite enjoyed, is scheduled to have brain surgery today to help with her trigeminal neuralgia, "an illness nicknamed the 'suicide disease' because it causes excruciating pain to all parts of the face."

--The Times via Publisher's Lunch.

She says she's half-way through her 22nd novel and less afraid of dying than of not ever being able to write again. Oddly enough, she was a neuroscientist before she began writing.

Pray for her and her recovery.

Free Rice

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 28, 2009 -- 1:35 a.m.

Build your vocabulary while donating food to starving refugees here!

I managed to get up to 40. Can you beat me? Don't be fooled by the ease of your early victories, this game is tough.

Another Nifty Cover

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 27, 2009 -- 10:49 p.m.

Here's another cool across-the-seas cover. This one's for Patrick Rothfuss' "Name of the Wind." Who'd have thought the Dutch translation would be "De Naam van de Wind?"

Sorry I couldn't find a bigger picture.

PS: I had a good day today. I managed to revise a chapter in Godsplay despite the fact I've barely looked at my novel for two weeks. It's frustrating when I realized I've been handling the same forty pages for something like two months now. Worse, a lot of the stuff I'd previously written for the ending is definitely subpar so may need to be rewritten from scratch.

PSS: Be careful who you read when you're writing. Today, Rachell came out sounding suspiciously like Corwin from the Amber Chronicles. Sorry sweetheart, but you're not the cynical yet. Wait until book three (*evil chuckles*).


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 27, 2009 -- 2:31 p.m.

Nothing makes you appreciate good copy-editing like a mistake.

There are the minor annoyances like "security" for "scrutiny," that sort of thing. And I read them and I chuckle and I move on.

But then you come across a sentence like this: "he appeared to have fallen in love with Vialle, and now he resided the legendary unicorn."

And you say to yourself, what is that supposed to mean? Out of context as I've left the line, you might think the character could be residing with the legendary unicorn, except he isn't. Or that Vialle is the legendary unicorn, but she isn't. In context, the line is totally incomprehensible.

Obviously, there was a line break between "now" and "he" and somehow, a line got left out in the publishing process. Luckily, I could fill in the missing words reasonably quickly and go on.

But it just reminds me how thankful we should be (in this season of gratitude) for copyeditors. I was a newspaper editor and so one of my main duties was copyediting. It about tore me up inside. With long hours and hard days and so much information you're supposed to know (or wore, you assume that you do know even though you really don't) there's really no way to avoid mistakes entirely. And I made some big ones. I made mistakes and let mistakes slip by that still haunt me sometimes at night. Grammatical copyediting is something I'm good at, but catching name misspellings and the wrong name on the wrong photograph, that sort of thing, is really not my forte.

The worst part is, nobody notices you until you do a bad job. If you do a good job, you're invisible, but if the reporter under you accidentally writes the wrong name for the mayor and you don't catch it because you're new in town...all sorts of people call you up (not the person who made the mistake) and tell you what an ugly, awful, stupid little person you are.

Getting those calls helped me develop a thicker skin, so I thank them, because I am overly sensitive and while stuff can still hurt (like having my writing being called "too girly"....grrrr...) at least now, I can take a step back and thank the people who are kicking me in the solar plexis.

And I can forgive myself for my mistakes and move on.

What's the worst mistake you've seen in a book or newspaper? Any howlers?


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 26, 2009 -- 3:00 p.m.

Last night, I watched a program on Mayan hieroglyphs. Imagine writing in a language where each syllable is a picture, and one sound can have thirteen different glyph variations. Imagine if letters are hid, one inside another. Imagine if you had to chisel all of these letters on slabs to tell their stories. Someone should incorporate a pictogramatic language into their fantasy world--alien and fantastic words are almost always based on european characters for a good reason, but still, I'd love to see the variety.

I never realized how complicated their language was. A language evolved where the delivery was more artful than the message. I'm thankful I'm not a writer in that time. It would make everything very complicated.

I'm thankful for a lot of things. I'm thankful I have a good mind to learn trivia of ancient civilizations. I'm thankful there are puzzles to solve and things that catch my interest through the duller days of life. I'm grateful I have a family full of loving people who have always sheltered and protected me. I'm thankful they've supported me while I followed my dreams.

I'm thankful I'm physically fit, that I have a body that will let me dance and run around, even though I spend most of every day living on a couch. I'm thankful that I have a lot of books around to inspire me and let my mind fly places humans can only dream of.

I'm grateful that I have a work ethic and a stubbornness that makes it difficult to quit. I'm grateful that I have clean food and water. I'm grateful for shampoo that makes my hair blonder and the sweet, comfortable wonders of denim. If I lived in a time when I had to wear a bustle, I think I'd crack in two. I'm thankful for the turkey cooking above me in my grandmother's oven and the gravy that is always salty enough to make me grit my teeth but that I eat anyway because she works so hard and I don't want to disappoint her.

But most of all, I am thankful for love. For being capable of it, for having examples of it in my life. For the fact that I can feel it because tonight, I'm warm and safe.

Thank you.

I am now in Wikipedia

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 25, 2009 -- 12:19 p.m.

My brother discovered that (drum roll please!) I am now quoted as an authoritative source in wikipedia. God help the world.

As my brother said, "You know you've hit the big time now!"

Anyway, I'm hoping this will be enough to make the liberal media elites send me my membership badge now, because I sooo want to be a part of that world-ruling cabal (sarcasm /off).

The wikipedia entry is here. Scroll down to the bottom to find me. Colbert interviews await.

The column referenced is short and amusing, so I'll practice pimping for myself and say: go read it.

In the meantime, columnist Michael Wolff tells you to boycott "fake" books in his article "Books are Bad for You."

Feel free also to boycott columns that intentionally use inflammatory statements like "Books are evil" and "Literate people should boycott books" to create controversy when all he's really saying is "celebrity and political memoirs like Sarah Palin's suck."

Way to create a reaction storm from nothing, man. Congrats.

News and Literature

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 24, 2009 -- 12:42 p.m.

Car's back. They fixed a couple of things, we'll see if it did any good. I suspect I'll still have to replace the battery. Boo.

Quarterly sales figures are down at Barnes and Noble and Borders, with B&N sales falling 2 percent and Borders falling a whopping 12 percent. So put on your Doom and Gloom hats.

Actually B&N sales fell less this quarter than they have in the past six quarters, so maybe that's a good sign.

The news sent B&N stock plummeting 6.5%. I've wanted some B&N stock for awhile, so maybe I'd better go race and tell my stock broker :).

While I'm doing that, why don't you read an interesting article from 2006 by Scott R. Bakker defending fantasy and criticizing 'elite literature.' As well as strict literalist religion.

Laptop Issues

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 23, 2009 -- 10:15 a.m.

On top of my car not working, now my laptop is on its last legs, too. I will have to probably get the screen replaced this week or buy a new one. Things are piling up. So if I don't post for awhile, I haven't abandoned you. My laptop's just in the shop.

My novel is backed up so no worries when it goes. I'm scared about finishing it. Becoming a published author was my dream. It's kept me alive through unemployment, finding out I was dating a sex offender, etc. The idea that I could work so hard and fail is terrifying. Better never to finish than put my baby out into such a scary world.

But if this one fails, there's always the next one, right? It took Brandon Sanderson a heck of a lot more tries than my measly three to get things working. And I already have a cool Y.A. novel thought, and another cool fantasy novel thought. I have more ideas than I have time to work on.

Anyway, the thing that will frustrate me the worst in books is when an author builds up and fails to deliver. For example, I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, and for four chapters he spends time building up "the Argument" with a capital A, about how mind-blowing it is and revolutionary, etc.

What is the argument: THERE IS NO FREE WILL. It's all an illusion.

And I'm like--seriously? That was the big argument? That's the argument that upsets people?

I discovered that argument when I was 14 years old. It's a natural outgrowth of the nature/nurture debate. Can you actually control anything or are you programmed? If you have a criminal's genes, you're a criminal. Or if your parents beat you, chances are, you beat your children. Do you have any choice in the matter? Or is your choice predestined by your genes and your upbringing?

And you're telling me two intelligent men, a college professor and a neuroscientist, are driven crazy and obsessed with this idea? The fact that human beings are merely a set of buttons, predictable machines who must respond certain ways to certain stimuli, will upset a trained FBI agent so much?

Dude, I figured this out when I was fourteen and it didn't upset me. I thought about it, realized it didn't matter whether free will actually existed or not, because it was to society's benefit to pretend it existed. Because without the concept of free will, personal responsibility goes out the window, and that basically screws up the court system. It also creates a lot of depressed people.

It's like religion. Whether or not there's an afterlife, it comforts me to think that there is an afterlife, so why not believe in it, even if the evidence for it is (naturally) a little limited. Religion is the opiate of the masses, but if (for me) religion has few painful side effects while at the same time giving me an emotional boost and an incentive to believe that the choices I make actually matter, than that's a drug I can sign onto. It's only the people who use religion as a weapon for harm that need to be taken into rehab.

My brother discovered "the Argument" at about the same age. I remember he came home from school one day, proud as a peacock, and told me that he'd spent all his lunch hour arguing about whether or not free will exists. "I took the harder side," he said, "I argued it doesn't exist."

And I asked, "Why is that the harder side?"

He looked at me for a moment, not speaking, then said at last, "I guess it isn't."

Maybe the two of us were super-geniuses. Maybe most college freshmen would blow up at the idea that they're just robots acting out a combination of their genes and their background and that free will is obviously an illusion born of neurochemicals. But I doubt it.

The moral of the story is that, the more you build up a scene, an idea, or a character, the more fantastic it has to be. Because even if something's written well, it can still be a wall-banger if it disappoints your expectations in a fundamental way. And the higher the expectations, the easier it is to disappoint.

This is what happened for me at the end of the Harry Potter series, and will likely happen to me as I watch more Lost.


TITLE: Revelations
TYPE: Character

Write a big reveal scene for one of your characters that shatters their preconcieved expectations. Not just any preconceived notions, but the one at the center of their being. What knowledge would hurt them the most? That their parents are not actually their parents? That the woman he/she loves doesn't even remember that all-important moment when they first connected? That they are a god and the world around them is merely their dream?

Find the most precious notion of the character's soul and rip it apart. If your character isn't a weeping, dribbling mess by the end of the scene, you haven't found the right revelation yet.

This will help you understand the template of your character's soul. It also can possibly be used as a weapon by your villain (a false revelation, or at least a point of attack now that you know where your character is vulnerable) or a twist...if your revelation is realistic and not a cliche--ie, Luke (or Richard Cypher) I am your father...

Car Troubles

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 20, 2009 -- 9:16 p.m.
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
-Arthur C. Clarke

You know what I hate? Car trouble. I have to jump start my Honda every morning. I've had this problem for a couple years, it only happens during the winter months, but when it's cold, the battery drains overnight. I thought the problem would be fixed when I got a new battery after the old one died completely two months ago, now it's having problems again.

The frustrating thing is that the dealership says its the battery and the battery place says its electrical. I went to three different places yesterday and got three different answers. And because I don't understand how my car works, I can't tell whether what they're telling me makes any sense at all. Cars are magic. They just work. Or, they don't.

It doesn't help me that the last time I went in for car repairs, I got taken in by the mechanic. It was a big national chain so I presumed they would hire people reputable, but perhaps not. Anyway, something about my car sounded really off, and when I came in, it turns out the plastic mud shield was dragging on the ground. But the mechanic also told me that my struts were cracked and various other things were wrong. A simple $10 replacement ended up costing me several thousand dollars. And I'll never know whether he was telling the truth because I didn't get a second opinion. There weren't many mechanics who could do Hondas in rural Montana. I trusted him, even though I probably shouldn't have. Because last year, my aunt went in for car repairs at a different shop and they fed her the same story. But when she took it to a different place, they said it was fine and that was a common thing mechanics shady mechanics said was wrong with their cars.

That's the problem with me. I'm so gullible. I always believe the best of people because I can't believe that anyone would ever intentionally hurt someone. It's like, I'm this vulnerable puppy so why would anyone kick me? I think maybe that's why I constantly date scumbags. Because I'm so absolutely committed to giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, I subconsciously ignore warning signs that other women must pick up on. Well, lesson learned, I suppose.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to get my car fixed soon. And I'll go to the place that told my aunt nothing was wrong. I'll take honesty and integrity over low cost any time.

More Cover Art

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 18, 2009 -- 8:52 a.m.

Going along with this month's apparent theme of cover art, Sfsignal spoke to a lot of editors/illustrators/bloggers etc. about their favorite cover art. A lot of them are favorites from when they were growing up, so a lot of them have buxom women with partially ripped chainmail bikinis and the like. But some of them are mindblowingly spectacular. My favorites of them are lined up to the left. These are the kind of covers that might make me buy a book I've never read or heard anything about. You can read more about them here.

My childhood nostalgia cover of choice would definitely be Test of the Twins. The way Raistlin stares out with that smirk with that smeared sunset across the sky. So creepy. And so accurate. And I've always thought the Dragonlance logo is cool too.

Bad Jenny! No Biscuit!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 17, 2009 -- 9:18 a.m.

I try to post daily, but sometimes life interferes. Point of example, my cousin won a gold medal at a karate tournament. Yah! It was good to see so many young girls competing. And how many of their parents came out to support them.

But busy is good. I've been reading the complete Chronicles of Amber, which doesn't qualify as new fiction but is something I've always wanted to read. It's funny how you can pick up a book and read one page and you suddenly have a good idea what year it's written in. The Amber series started in the 70s, so the style of the day is quite jarring, and the slang doesn't carry well 40 years later (not to self, never use modern euphemisms!) but the ideas are very interesting. There's something about it, maybe the color-coding, that reminds me of the Piers Anthony Adept series, which I highly recommend. I loved the first three books of that series. The second trilogy...well, if you can't say something nice, right? The grid from that series was awesome. I wish there was a real game tournament like that.

One thing I've noticed about the newer fantasy is it seems to be more religious than it used to be, Everyone is always fighting gods, becoming gods or serving gods. In the older books I read, religion was painted in vague strokes (the evil Emperor served an evil goddess who was mentioned maybe twice) or left out at all. It was straight individual vs. evil empire.

I wonder if the inclusion of religion and religious extremism is merely the inevitable deepening/broadening of the genre (if you think about it, the fantasy novel is still quite young, depending on whether you include folktales like Gilgamesh or gothic horror stories like Frankenstein, which is usually categorized as sf yet have a lot of the tropes of the fantasy genre) or a reaction to political events. The great fathers and mothers of the genre were writing at a time when two empire battled off on exotic battlefields all across the world. Now that religious extremism has replaced the cold war threat for a lot of people, is it surprising that that theme is reflecting in books? Perhaps even subconsciously? It isn't surprising that they sell well if they touch that nerve in the general conscious--or maybe it is if people are looking to escape from real life, not read reflections of it. Perhaps the inclusion of more religious authors into the mainstream, who learned their techniques from religious men like David Farland, Orson Scott Card and now Brandon Sanderson?

It's something to think about. It's entirely possible that its merely I've noticed it more, and nothing has changed a bit. While I think high literature is overanalyzed, I'd like to see someone monitoring the trends of sf and fantasy to see if there's truly been a change.

And Another Post...

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 11, 2009 -- 12:55 a.m.

One book I saw but didn't pick up at the bookstore was And Another Thing..., which is the sixth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "Triology." I got nervous just because Douglas Adams is one of a kind.

I was also surprised that this book flew in so quietly. The radar didn't even exist here. Given the Hitchhiker's phenomenon, I was surprised that the book (which came out in October) wasn't even turned facing the front at my book store. Where were all the outraged fans talking about how this new author was no Douglas Adams? Arguing on the forums that lightning could not possibly strike twice? Heck, even the wikipedia page for the book hasn't been updated since before its release. It's by the same author who did the Artemis Fowl books. I wish they had picked a different title. I guess it's good they go right up front and admit that it's different, but still...

You'd think with a bestselling author writing another best-selling author's series, there would be more hoopla surrounding the release. Well, quiet or not, it's worth knowing about. I'll probably try to pick this one up at the library before I read it. But the reviews on the Guardian and on various blogs are good. Amazon reviews seem impressively split. It always makes me laugh and roll my eyes when I see reviewers give books one star even though they say they liked it and found it an enjoyable read.

Or better yet:

"I find it very strange and annoying that while Douglas Adams was a great fan of technology and gadgets, yet, a new book based on his series isn't on the Kindle. You are missing a huge chunk of hitchhiker fans!! So I haven't actually read it yet, my rating is based on the fact that it isn't available on my medium of choice."

Sigh. Silly reviewers. Stars are for...well, people who can review things. Loaded gun, meet monkeys.

PS: The Ender's anthology my thing in arrived today. I haven't got the courage to open it.

Great Hunt

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 10, 2009 -- 10:27 p.m.

The e-book for Robert Jordan's Great Hunt re-release is pretty awesome. I love the trollocs and the aura of menace.

I hate to see such beautiful covers on an e-book. I want to see them in the store!

You can see a series showing the stages of the painting's progressions here. My only complaint is that I'd like to see Lanfear in the background.

Web fun!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 10, 2009 -- 9:36 a.m.

If you haven't discovered regrEtsy yet, you definitely ought to visit it. The worst of the hand-made crafts. Definitely not work safe! Hehe. Somebody bought this...

More useful for writers is which rounds up many sf/f/h short story markets and ACTUALLY IS UPDATED.

The worst and weirdest Vampire Products (The article is written for Halloween, but what the heck? Why not read it to celebrate the upcoming release of New Moon in theaters?). has the first chapter of R. Scott Bakker's new book up. Neuropath, like his Second Apocalypse books, has graphic sex, profanities and education/incest jokes? Not to mention it breaks the cardinal rule of not beginning a book with a character waking up... But because he's Bakker, he can get away with it. You can see his philosophy background really jump out, which is cool.

I like his fantasy genre stuff better, but good writing is good writing. How can you not love lines like: "Mia’s real name was Emilio, but everyone called him Mia, either because his last name was Farrow, or because of his days as a drag queen."


Anyway...I signed up for a second online critique group because I wanted some fresh eyes for my book. I think seeing a draft prejudices people and so they may not see things sometimes. Still keep up with the old writing group, just juggling both, because I'm just that awesome. I haven't made much progress on the book since last update. I'm stuck trying to deal with some chronology and writing a chase scene. Chase scenes are soooo difficult to write. I'd rather write a sex scene, and those aren't my forte either. I'm good at graphic violence :)

Which is funny because I don't see my writing as graphic at all...I guess my exposure to my good friend's horror movies, too much Japanese anime and my George R.R. Martin have disabled my "this is too much" radar. Anyone remember when Cartoon Network censored the blood out of Gundam Wing...because heaven forbid cartoon characters get a scalp wound? And you couldn't say "kill you," you had to say "destroy you?" I think that kind of hiding glamorizes violence, sweeps under the rug the consequences of the fight.

Then again, I was probably the only one cheering when the Ashaman began exploding men like melons going yeah, bring on the gore.

I guess I feel like the only violence that seems to grab people's attention is violence that goes a step too far, and that's how I make things horrible and real in my books. Or try to. I think fantasy violence is often too clean, too heroic. And it could be subconscious on my part. I didn't realize that this book was going to have a moral of anti-violence until I read it, but gore compared to the beauty and life of the yei... of course it's going to look too didactic, though. I didn't mean it that way, and I'm not sure I even believe in that message since violence is often necessary, but you write what your subconscious puts out. I also realized that my obsession with eyes in this book--lost eyes, creatures built with no eyes, beautiful eyes, exploding eyes--could stem from an old college gender class about the male gaze. Think about it...a male god. Always watching. ALWAYS WATCHING. The creepiness abounds.

At the speed dating thing, I saw someone with the most phenomenal brown eyes. For a moment, when I looked at him, I was rendered completely speechless. I almost told him he should be an eye model. It was as if someone had taken a brown eye in photo-shop and juiced the colors up really high. Like dark, liquid ochre. He didn't particularly interest me in any other way, but those were fantastic eyes.

Anyway, one thing I've noticed is that, while before I was always able to take my critiques in good spirits, lately I've been tempted to fight back. My motto going into groups has always been, "if my manuscript can't speak for itself, there's no reason for me to defend it" but for some reason, my work lately has been different. I want to cradle it to my chest like a baby to protect from the harsh, evil world.


Must look at things objectively. I want to improve my child, not protect it, since it has no feelings. Manuscripts are sociopaths. No feelings! They drain souls!

Weird mood. Sorry.

I suspect the overwhelmingly positive reviews I got from Dave Farland's book camp went to my head and have now made me unsufferably arrogant. Or, because I am exceptionally worried about the ending and that worry makes me snappish and overprotective.

I'm hoping this fear is just the regular author's so-tired-of-this-stupid-thing-misery and not this book really is trash, plot-wise. If it is, hopefully one of my critique groups will help me fix it.

I felt better about the end when I added some more foreshadowing. Of course, now I'm worried it's less foreshadowing and more fore-hitting-my-readers-with-a-ton-of-red-bricks...

I'm mainly worried about betraying my implicit promise to my reader. What the heck is my book promising? Darned if I know.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 9, 2009 -- 11:41 p.m.

I've been busy playing catch-up on some blogs I've fallen behind on lately. Here's some old entries that I feel are of note. I think most of these are links from Nathan Bransford's round-up, so give him the credit.

The Rejectionist blog held a contest for writing the funniest form rejection. The winners are here. Let the musical zombies of awesome be heard.

A comprehensive study of the price wars by Nathan Bransford, who explains why some people feel cheap books are be a bad thing, especially for new authors and independent booksellers. Well, we'll see how it all plays out. There have been book sales before without the world ending.

Publisher's Weekly decides that they don't need to wait for December to announce the best books of 2009.

Author Natalie Whipple offers tips for finishing that horrifying first draft.

Likewise, Janet Reid offers advice for the equally terrifying query letter.

And screenwriter Johny August offers seven things he learned from playing World of Warcraft.


TITLE: The Wall Fell
TYPE: Setting

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell.

There is power in stories about separation. Because though people fear death and pain, they also fear being seperated from their loved ones and their families. I've always been amazed when I watch shows like Survivor how intense the reunions with the contestants are with their families. I mean, they've only been separated a month, and yet they sob like children lost in a mall. Part of that, I suspect, is the reality television head space, but there's more to it, I think. I've always been a person of solitude, so I doubt I'd react that way. I am more comfortable on my own than with other people. But who knows?

Think about cultures. Alien cultures in sci-fi and fantasy literature usually have great distinctions, because they are "planets of hats," with just enough definition to make them alien and strange, or very familiar. A planet full of Nazis or communists or warriors. To some extent, this is just because of the limitations of form--hard to paint every culture in broad strokes with only a few pages of description. After all--it's not as if we need to know that the fierce blue-painted warriors are also advanced connoisseurs of escargot. That gets sidelined by the plot, for good reason.

But the strange thing is, often there's no such thing as "culture creep." Planets are divided by space and nations in the fantasy world are divided by distance and travel methods, so there may be some explanation, but usually there are similarities between different peoples, even those who hate each other. Loan words in the enemy's language, similarities in government, etc.

I want you to think about whatever speculative cultures you're working on. What stops culture creep? What stops cross-pollination and acts as a wall between your peoples? Is it a desire for purity? Governmental restrictions? Are there cracks in those walls, people while relish the culture of their enemies at the risk of being labeled traitor? Nobles, especially conquering ones, often have a separate culture than their subjects. What are the walls that keep them apart? I read once a book where the theory was that people are defined not by who they are but by who they are not. I am not a popular girl. I am not athletically gifted. I am not one of those contemptible fools that surrounds me. Their sense of what they are not is stronger than their sense of what they are.

Is there any way you can play on the separation anxiety of your hero? Most stories involve journeys, both physical and internal. What walls stand between your hero and his people? What makes him an outcast? Can he break through those walls?

If you don't quite understand what I'm getting at--I certainly don't, I tend to ramble when I get philosophical--do this instead. Create a culture separated by a wall. Who built it? Why? Do the two peoples want to reunite or stay apart? Why? What will be the consequences if the wall comes down. Despite the jubilation when the Berlin Wall fell, I bet it also caused thousands of personal conflicts as people reunited and found their expectations shattered. Who does the wall falling hurt? Who does it help?

Get writing.

Book Recommendations from Brandon

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 6, 2009 -- 8:50 pm.

Ah...the wonderful world of speed dating. I went today and found it doesn't work for me. I need to spend more than three minutes with a person to discover if there's any connection, unless there are supermodels there, and then its love at first sight. But I did find out about a new local board gaming club, yah!

One of the Storm Leaders over at Dragonmount asked Brandon about what books he read and liked, and since the theme of the week seems to be book recommendations, I thought I'd post them here. Red indicate ones I've read and liked too. Rothfuss is one of the books I bought on my orange and black binge. Strangely, one of the guys I met speeding is Brandon's next door neighbor, which is an odd coincidence...

  • Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind (Sanderson must have sold several copies of Rothfuss’s book last night. He practically ordered one guy to take his signed Gathering Storm, walk downstairs, and buy Name of the Wind off the shelf before leaving the store.)
  • Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane
  • Jane Yolen: The Pit Dragon Trilogy
  • Melanie Rawn: Dragon Prince (he once set this one on fire, surreptitiously reading it by candlelight after his mom had turned out the lights and sent him to bed.)
  • Terry Pratchett: recommends starting with Guards! Guards!
  • Vernor Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep
  • Jim Butcher: The Dresden Files
  • Robin Hobb: various trilogies, including the Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies
  • Stephen Brust
  • Adam Rex
Godsplay revision is 30,000 words away from being done, and counting... I'm going slowly, trying to maximize the impact of the climax. It's hard to tell if I'm pulling it off or not. That's what writing groups are for, right?

Book Cover I like

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 5, 2009 -- 11:06 p.m.

Here's another book cover I like. Though there are parts of it I don't like (the font is too Harry Potter), I like the expression of the king, the eyes looking right at you, and the ravens/blackbirds/whatever, which add a little element of action to the scene. It would catch my attention, even though it's Y.A. I also like the wallpaper border--for some reason, it works for me, though it would work even better for me if it were celtic knotwork.

Book Review -- Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 5, 2009 -- 12:12 a.m.

"Aspar White smelled murder. Its scent was like a handful of autumn leaves, crisped by the first frost and crushed in the palm.

Dirty Jesp, the Sefry woman who had raised him, told him once that his perculiar sense came from having been born of a dying mother below the gallows where the Raver took his sacrifices. But Dirty Jesp made her living as a liar...."
-Greg Keyes, the Briar King, pg 21. (Showing a good example of a first line...well, if you don't count the prologues)

Where did the mysterious colonists who vanished from Roanoke go?

They were kidnapped by monsters, of course, and taken as slaves to a land of dark magic!

That has nothing to do with these books. Or not much, anyway. It's just fun to know because you can see some of the languages evolved from corrupted English. There are enough little easter eggs in these books to keep a reader took me an embarrassing long time to realize that the word "d'Ef" is, well...

Greg Keyes' series, called "The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" is definitely a winner and one of the most underappreciated sagas in the fantasy genre. At the end of the age of men, a small group of heroes is fighting to save the land from the unnatural evil looming. I got into this series a few years ago, but added two more books to my collection during the orange and black buy-fest. This is one of those sets of books that makes young writers groan, because there is no way you could ever replicate such wonderful prose.

Then you sigh and remember that Keyes has been writing professionally for much longer than you have, and the voice saying "I wish I could write like that" is quickly drowned out by all the wonderfulness of these books. They hit all the right old notes--buxom barmaids, snarky princesses, rapscallion fighters, and knights with big ass swords--with enough new twists to keep you interested. Monks with ninja-like powers! How awesome is THAT? Not to mention six-nippled albino gypsy people...

Besides a hefty helping of palace intrigues and a viewpoint character fatality rate reminiscent of George R.R. Martin, Keyes also does some wonderfully inventive things with religion. Now, I'm re-reading the series from scratch at the moment and my memory's a little patchy, but I believe I'm accurate in saying that the church has been calling the local spirits into "Saints" -- just like the Christian church of medieval Europe did in places like Ireland. By folding the local deities into their religion, they make it more easy for the locals to convert.

In this stories' case, if you walk through their sacred places, you get mad magical powers. Of course, each walk requires strength, and not all Saints are good...

Besides memorable characters, wonderful description, realistic languages (heroes actually have bad grammar and syntax errors when they switch tongues) and interesting religions, Keyes also plays with contrasts in weapons and culture. For example, one of the fighters is trained with a rapier, which works, although not always very well, against men with plate mail and cleavers.

Another wonderful part about this series is that it is done. No waiting for books. Just grab and go.

I've read all but the last book, the Born Queen, so I can't say whether the series' end is as good as its beginning, but these are books you won't regret buying, in my opinion--it's even available in e-book form. This is a sophisticated fantasy. As delicious as it gets.

My only complaint is that every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, which, occasionally, can seem a bit forced. But it's a small flaw compared with so much goodness packed into these pages.

I had to add this snippet from the Briar King, too, just because I love characters bantering with each other and the reference to Gimli/Legolas.

" 'I killed a hundred, before the gate,' Thaniel asserted.
" 'I killed a hundred and five,' Carsek replied.
" 'You can't count to a hundred and five,' Thaniel retorted.
" 'Aye, I can. It's how many times I've had your sister.'
" 'Well,' Thaniel mused, 'then my sister had to have been counting for you. I know that after two hands and two feet, I had to start counting for your mother.'
" At that, both men paused.
" 'We are very funny men, aren't we?' Carsek grunted.
" 'We are men,' Thaniel said, more soberly. 'And alive, and free. And that is enough.'"
- Greg Keyes, The Briar King, pg. 10

Word Count: Chapter 2

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 4, 2009 -- 11:53 p.m.

Busy day! Christmas shopping takes the blues away! I wrote two new chapters in Godsplay yesterday and I think they turned out all right. It's funny, because when I do so much revising, I don't write much new stuff. It's like working muscles that are cramped with disuse. It takes me a couple of days to find the proper rhythm again, especially if its a character viewpoint I haven't done in a while. Go, Thaya!

But I ended up adding a few new named characters. I think we've spiraled up to 47 total, now. And made one minor character have a viewpoint right before he gets chomped.

One of the things I struggle most with is coming up with new metaphors. I love metaphors, but ugh, I tend to reach for the same ones time and time again.

Word Count for today (this is a short chapter): Sathain 24, Iysifae 8, god 7, eye 7 -- I do love my eyes... -- blood 7, black 7, sister 7, one 7, left 6, "I 6, mortals 6, gods 6, Sathain's 6, eyes 5, face 5, smiled 5, said 5, back 5, lips 4, down 4, born 4, beautiful 4, thought 4, created 4, create 4 -- odd, the repetitions -- enough 4, void 4, years 4, wouldn't 4, did 4, Iyusifae's 4, mortal 3, smooth 3, again 3, still 3, skin 3, beneath 3, watching 3, way 3, dark 3, flesh 3, divine 3, away 3, centuries 3, deep 3, throne 3, past 3, under 3, sense 3, pain 3, Lomari 3, burned 3, though 3, looked 3, course 3, fingers 3, behind 3, lost 3, because 3, around 3, taste 3, hair 3, fought 3, world 3, first 3, brightly 2, many 2, thousand 2, gods' 2, tied 2, much 2, insane 2, quickly, withered 2, hurts" 2, change 2, flame 2, certain 2, mouth 2, ago 2, cold 2, less 2, truly 2, bright 2, died 2, person 2, hated 2, temptation 2, impossibly 2, neck 2, white 2, socket 2, ability 2, without 2, fifty-six 2, power 2, fit 2, old 2, fingertips 2, savoring 2, draw 2 -- ha! Uno! -- twisted 2, red 2, millennia 2 -- why does that come up on my spellcheck?-- feel 2, mind 2, break 2, wasn't 2, must 2, body 2, smoke 2, below 2, hot 2, since 2, ever 2, pathetic 2, needed 2, deluded 2, chance 2, her" 2, watched 2, "it 2, die 2, dried 2, humans 2, voice 2, deity 2, mad 2, god's 2, fire 2, Erratha 2, asked 2, husky 2, times 2, blue 2, above 2, empty 2, Ewah 2, air 2...

Not going to type the one word ones. It's funny you can tell the tones of the chapters by the words. Blood, cold, red, twisted...

Well, most of the chapters will probably have similar word rosters. Ah well.

TV Goodness (Or not)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 3, 2009 -- 3:22 p.m.

Modern Marvels did an episode on "Barbarian Battle Tech." Though even the show seems to acknowledge that "Barbarians" to cover everything from the Celts to the Huns is perhaps not the best word, the info about the weapons will be interesting to any fantasy enthusiast. I had no clue that the Celts had chariots, though I wonder if they really did use them in the way described. It seems--un-Celtic. It also says that there is a surprising advantage to fighting naked except for blue paint--though mail is still a more effective protector.

Anyway, you can watch it here.

Tonight, ABC is premiering their latest hyped series--"V," which is apparently a remake of an earlier science fiction series with the same name. The first eight minutes of the show are available for free online.

Although I wouldn't waste your time on it, honestly. Unless you want to learn how not to tell a story.

It's just too formulaic. I can picture executives sitting around in a studio, ticking off demographic groups--there's the rebellious teen. The hard-worked single mother. The religious guy. The person being overlooked at work. And the black man.

It's obvious that the show is trying to invoke Lost--which I finally got around to watching--even the title minus theme music fade dramatically into the foreground. The show does try to hang a lampshade on it by joking that the movie Independence Day "is merely derivative of its other science fiction predecessors." But as far as I can tell, this series isn't going to be anything new.

The commercial where the alien asks the news reader "not to ask any questions that might portray them in a negative light" is amusing, not because of the obvious, overplayed menace in the question, but because the television news guy is all "what?" It's humorous because obviously, the writers haven't been involved in journalism, to act as if this stipulation is unusual or even unthinkable. Anyone who's worked with established politicians knows that in some cases, there are limits to the questions you can ask--which often have to be submitted in advance, no less. So how this request should surprise him...

Though, of course, the wisest politicians will field any question, because chances are, they know more about it than the reporter does. I was often pleasantly surprised as a newspaper editor at how intelligent the politicians were. They are not all spotlight seekers with good hair, strangely.

Anyway, "V" starts too slowly. It has none of Lost's in-your-face slashes of temporal displacement, a brilliant type of storytelling that should have obsoleted the "info-dump" in V's intro. Also, V's focus on so many characters dilutes any chance of me empathizing with one. You just can't flash cliches on the screen and expect me to identify with them. Either sink your teeth into the characters, or get to the special effects, else you leave me yawning.

Anyway, perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised by the rest of the episode. There was a series, I think it was on sci-fi in the late 90s, that played with the same premise. But instead of this show, where the aliens were obviously bad guys, you never quite knew whether the visitors were good or bad. They offered human beings all this advanced technology, but the humans were still suspicious, and there were alien hate groups and all sorts of interesting, advanced themes. Too advanced, perhaps, for viewers. It was V's premise done right.

Looked up the show I liked: It was called "Earth: Final Conflict." I don't think I watched all five seasons, though. Either I quit watching after they killed off all the people I liked or they quit broadcasting in my area.

Anyway, speaking of Lost...

I was watching an episode with Rousseau and I suddenly realized, "That's Ambassador Delenn!" I was surprised it took me so long to notice--must be the lack of a bone plate. So I had to wikipedia it to make sure I was right, and it turns out that not only does Mira Furlan play both characters, she's also Croatian. Which means something to me because I did my college thesis on Yugoslavia. The ethnic cleansing there inspired the racial aspects of the novel I'm working on--as well as providing some of the motifs. Furlan is a Croatian who married a Serbian, and who fled Zagreb after she was harassed for attending an International Theater Festival in Serbia, making her, supposedly, a national traitor. She had agreed to do the performance before the war broke out.

It's a hard situation. On the one hand, you have this chance to remind the Serbians that their enemies are human, too -- something many soldiers obviously forgot during the war. Dialog between the two very similar cultures who had been living in peace together since WWII could have been a bridge to solve the genocidal rampages. Art should continue despite war.

However, at the same time, by participating in an event, no matter how international, in Belgrade, capital of your worst enemies, you are bringing legitimacy and helping, at least economically, the people who are massacreing you. Art may be beyond borders, but it can also be twisted. Politicized.

It must have been a tough decision. I cannot even begin to speculate what was the "moral" action was or what I would have done in Furlan's place. I wasn't in her situation, I haven't heard both sides of the story, etc. I strongly suspect I would have been out with the Croatian nationalist army, wielding whatever primitive weapon I could have against the superior armed Serbs, because if someone hurt the people I love, I couldn't not fight back. Whatever the rightness of her decision, Furlan's goodbye to Yugoslavia--written in response to the death threats she received when she got home, shows a woman of intellect and courage. And should be required reading for any writer whose characters are about to make "The Speech."

It's here in full, but an excerpt:

It seems that I've been chosen for some reason to be the filthy rag everyone uses to wipe the mud off their shoes. I am far too desperate to embark on a series of public polemics in the papers. I do, however, feel that I owe myself and my city at least a few words. Like at the end of some clumsy, painful love story, when you keep wanting, wrongly, to explain something more, even through you know at the bottom of your heart that words are wasted; there is no one left to hear them. It is over...

"I know that it may seem out of place to swear t0 pacifism, to swear to love and brotherhood of all peoples while people are dying, while children are dying, while young men are returning home crippled and mangled forever...But I have no other way of thinking. I cannot accept war as the only solution, I cannot force myself to hate, I cannot believe that weapons, killing, revenge, hatred, that such an accumulation of evil will ever solve anything. Each individual who personally accepts the war is in fact an accessory to the crime; must he not then take a part of the guilt for the war, a part of the responsibility?

In any case, I think, I know and I feel that it is my duty, the duty of our profession, to build bridges. To never give up on cooperation and community. Not the national community. The Professional community. The human community. And even when things are at their very worst, as they are now, we must insist to out last breath on building and sustaining bound between people. This is how we pledge to the future. And one day it will come...

It is terribly sad when one is forced to justification without having done anything wrong. There is nothing but despair, nausea and horror. I no longer have any decision to make. Others have decided for me. They have decided I must shut up, give up, vanish; they have abolished my right to come home...

Can the horror of war be used as a justification for every single nasty bit of filth we commit against our fellow man? Are we allowed to remain silent in the face of the injustice done to a friend or colleague and justify our silence by the importance of the great bright national objective?...

To whom am I addressing this letter? Who will read it? Who will even care to read it? Everyone is so caught up with great cause, that small personal fates are not important any more. How many friends do you have to betray to keep from committing he only socially acknowledged betrayal, the betrayal of the nation? How many petty treacheries, how many pathetic little dirty tricks must one do to remain "clean in the eyes of the nation"?

I am sorry, my system of values is different. For me there have always existed, and always will exist, only human beings, individual people, and those human beings (God, how few of them there are!) will always be excepted from generalization of any kind, regardless of events, however, catastrophic. I, unfortunately, shall never be able to "hate all Serbs", nor even understand what that really means. I shall always, perhaps until the moment the kind threats on the phone are finally carried out, hold my hand out to an anonymous person on the "other side", a person who is as desperate and lost as I am, who is as sad, bewildered and frightened...

I reject, I refuse to accept such a crippling of myself and my own life. I played those last performances in Belgrade for those anguished people who were not "Serb" but human beings, human beings like me, human beings who recoil before this monstrous Grand Guignol farce in which dead are flying. It is to these people, both here and there, that I am addressing my words. Perhaps someone will hear me...

I am sending this letter into a void, into darkness, without an inkling of who will read it and how, or in how many different ways it will be misused or abused. Chances are it will serve as food for the eternally hungry propaganda beast. Perhaps someone with a pure heart will read it after all.

I will be grateful to that someone."

(Mira is apparently currently working on a film with Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic of "No Man's Land" called "Cirkus Kolumbia" which is tentatively slated for release in 2011. Not much info on it yet, but it looks interesting. Filming just started, so I wish her the best of luck!)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 2, 2009 -- 5:10 p.m.

Oops: I forgot to add my Halloween picture. I was an Avant Garde French fairy for Halloween, complete with beret and all.

Look at all the cuteness that's still single. Bah!

Writing Prompt #9: Halloweenies

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 2, 2008 -- 4:38 p.m.

I don't blog on weekends, so I missed the chance to wish my readers a Happy Halloween.

I must admit, I spent my Halloween in suburbia so it was disappointingly dull. Better than a Halloween two years ago I spent on assignment for the first day in a new town and a kid wearing oversized overalls, oversized flannel and a hat about to droop into his eyes came to the counter for candy. I asked, "Are you a Redneck for Halloween?"

And he said: No.

Welcome to Montana. And coincidentally, foot-in-the-mouth-ville.

Anyway, I've been hiding from my novel for the past week but I'm out of excuses so I guess I have to work on it again. I'm two-thirds of the way through--missed deadline but it will definitely be done before Thanksgiving. Hopefully.

Besides going to a really lame Halloween party, I also spent my Halloween in the nerdiest place possible: a Book store! My local store offered 25 percent off on any book with orange and black on the cover--and I was surprised how popular black shadows with orange lettering is nowadays. So I went on a book-buying spree, amazing all around me by coming home with $75 worth of paperbacks I'd read were excellent in other places.

Why? Market research.

I realized after talking with fellow WoTimers at the cons I went to that some of us are hideously out-of-date. Most of my favorite fantasy serieses are from the 80s and early 90s. With exceptions based on friends' recommendations, after that I only started buying books by authors I'd already known and loved.

This means that I am some 10-20 years behind on other fantasy readers. A whole generation has grown up, and they are more familiar with Harry Potter than Dragonlance. With Twilight than a Song of Fire and Ice. With Mistborn than Robert Jordan. Well--I'm probably exaggerating a little, but the point is, I hardly recognize any of the author's names adorning the book shelves, and so I decided I needed to do a little about it.

Thus I bought almost every book by a 'new' author I'd heard or seen reviews of. I realized a couple of things.

1) Dave Wolverton/Farland was absolutely right. I need a psuedonym. Between all the McCaffery and the McKillip and who knows what else, who will see a McBride?

2) The majority of the big splash authors are male. Which I find odd because the majority of readers are female. This could indicate a hole to be filled involving female characters and female issues.

3) What's hot in the Y.A. fantasy market may be predicted by trends in what's hot in the adult fantasy market. Think of it this way--the Southern Vampire series came before Twilight. Orphaned mages were the rage long before Harry Potter. So--if there's something missing in the y.a. market that's in the adult market, can you write a Y.A. novel on its greatness and beat the trend?

In other words, if everyone in the adult market is in love with assassins, should you write an assassin Y.A. book? Granted, this might be difficult because parents might not want to buy a Y.A. book that has "assassin" right on the cover. But I don't know.

Speaking of the Y.A. Market, I finished Twilight. I suspect I'm the only person who liked the series better at the end, because there was less emotional threat and more physical threat. Bottom line: I'm not a romance person and I'm not a big fan of reliving my years of adolescent angst.

Still, I found the Twilight Saga strangely compelling. I'm not sure why. I was also somewhat--disappointed when it was over, though also relieved, because reading another passage about Bella's own self-doubts would have made me want to go choke myself on razor blades. Bottom line: I didn't hate it. Even if I read it as an excuse not to be writing myself, I finished the darn thing.

I suppose what I enjoyed most was how the vampires' gifts combined to solve problems. I enjoyed how Alice's gift worked and the weaknesses. I'd probably enjoy a vampire spin-off about Alice and Jasper more than the original books themsevles.

Though it really annoyed me how inconsistent Bella's fear of blood seemed to be. It seemed to vanish sometimes and then come back in later books.

But enough about that. John Scalzi has a blog post about how sci-fi nerds need to get over their whine about how sci-fi is mainstream now, which has a picture of Barack Obama wielding a lightsaber. Even if I've been disappointed about how ineffective he's been in office, the picture is cool.

And Scalzi is right. No one should be saying "woe is me!" except middle school students. And that's less about the nerd thing, and more because you're a socially inept middle school student.

Don't worry, you're grow into a socially inept adult someday, and then you'll rule all the jocks with your leet skillz. And you'll have a large community of people around you who also love sci-fi, in part because of the mainstreaming.


TITLE: Halloweenies
GENRE: Paranormal
TYPE: Character

Halloween is a time for scary demons and other denizens of the Nether realm. I want you to think of what scares you the most. Horns? Chains? For me, its images connecting to pain. The sound of skin crackling as it burns. Needles sticking out of fingertips. Blood. Long heights.

Now, create a demon that has all these characteristics--except one thing: he's scared of you, too.

That's right, the most terrifying demon in the world is terrified of you too. Or frogs. Or something.

The point is, he's a total wuss. So what are the most frightening physical attributes he can have and combine them with the least frightening personality traits that you can think of. Maybe he's a klutz. Maybe he faints at the sight of blood. Whatever.

Just write about a non-scary, scary demon and what could possibly motivate him to overcome his fears and come to the human world.