Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

December 9, 2010 -- 9:07 a.m.

Publisher's Lunch Weekly had deals from local author Brandon Sanderson, giving us some detail about the books coming from him in the next couple of years.

"No. 1 NYT bestselling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson's MISTBORN: The Alloy of Law, an original, standalone short novel set in the universe of his Mistborn trilogy, and THE RITHMATIST, set in an alternate-history America where magic users (called "Rithmatists") battle wild chalk creatures, introducing a student at the Rithmatist academy with great interest in but no ability to use the magic, but when students start vanishing, it's up to him to expose the sinister figure behind the disappearances, to Tor, for publication in 2011 and 2012, respectively."

It'll be fun to see another Mistborn book. I'm reserving judgment on Rithmatists, but it sounds interesting. Hopefully, it has something to do with arithmetic or rhythm, otherwise its kind of a silly name.

In other news, my friend Frank, from our writing group, was an honorable mention in this quarter's Writers of the Future contest. So congratulations!

Borders and B&N, Unite!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

December 6, 2010 -- 12:41 p.m.

Book News: Borders' owner just made a proposal to buy Barnes and Noble. Will their powers combine to form an arch nemesis to Amazon?

Posters on the Wall Street Journal web site scoff and say the move is just to pump stock prices. I would be surprised at the move, personally. Borders is shutting down stores at the moment, so why would they try to absorb a huge chain?

Personally, I've been doing my Christmas shopping at Hastings, which is one of my favorite chain used book stores. Powell's is nice also, but Hastings has the advantages of used video games and used DVDs too. There's a big conversation in the gaming community about how buying used video games is immoral because developers don't get their money. That applies to books, too. I feel a wee bit guilty about denying my favorite authors their percentages (less about the game developers) but I am a poor student. They got their fee once, too, from the original owner. You wouldn't complain it was immoral if someone read a book and then gave it to someone else, would you? And which would an author rather have, their book in the trash, or their book in the hands of a fervent admirer who shows it to her friends and tries to convince them to buy it, too?

I presume that most authors are in favor of the used book industry, regardless of the fact they don't profit, but it would be interesting to find out. Used book stores have such a happy fuzzy reputation, I suspect most authors would be stoned on the spot if they dared to speak out against them.

The only problem with used books is that when I see trade paperbacks for $2.50, I end up bringing home 30 of them, and I never read them because I have too many. I must have twenty books on my shelf calling to me, and I keep buying more for "market research."

My baby brother turned 20 yesterday. I still remember wrapping his 1-year-old body in a blanket and stuffing him under an overturned laundry basket weighed down with my mum's aerobic weights, because he was so annoying. When I came back, he'd stopped moving, and I was terrified he'd suffocated, but no, he'd just fallen asleep, happy as a clam that his big sister had played with him. Unfortunately, he is big enough I can no longer do that. Though I have tried.

I love my family so much. Speaking of which, a delayed thanksgiving post: when I asked my grandfather what he wanted for his birthday/Christmas, he told me, "for you to find an agent and a publisher, and to get into grad school with good scores on your GREs."

If everyone had grandparents like mine, I don't think the world would have any crime or any war. We'd all live happy lives climbing lollypop trees and singing happy songs. I am so grateful for my family, who believe in me even though I categorically refuse to let them read my novels. I am tentatively planning on showing some them the first part of Skin Farm. We'll see if they think I've been wasting my time.

Bad Writing

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

December 3, 2010

Still sick. No fun. I hate the isolation this causes. I see it as my moral obligation not to spread germs, but I haven't left the house in a week and I miss non-family social interaction. Even for me, grand solipsist that I am (see, still studying for the GREs), I like the occasionally company of someone my own age from time to time.

Dad had gall bladder surgery last weekend but now he's okay. It was edging on gangrenous when they took it out, so I'm glad they caught it before things got more serious. I hate the suddenness of these things. Why can't life hand you your schedule of medical emergencies in advance so you can properly prepare?

Today, I've been musing about the phrase "bad writing." I've had people talk to me about the bad writing in books. I've seen it on amazon reviews all the time. The funny thing is, it's a phrase the doesn't actually mean much, yet everyone seems to expect everyone else to understand what they mean.

I've been thinking about this because I was talking about books with a friend who hated Hunger Games because of its "bad writing." The vagueness of the phrase can refer to style, or to characterization, or to a dozen other nitpicky things. Usually an author is good on some points and not so good on others, yet if the particular aspect you care about as a reader is lacking, all of their good points get wrapped up in the term "bad writing". And often, even more ironically, sometimes it's a term that's used not about the writing at all, but about something else, like the choice of subject matter. If it's something you disagree with, then it's bad writing, too.

And then things get even more complicated, because sometimes the author does bad writing on purpose. Does that turn bad writing into good writing? Does that mean we judge should weigh intention while trying to judge if something is bad or not?

I thought about it somewhat while reading the criticism of Dan Wells' Serial Killer book on Amazon. It amused to me to see some people complaining that the protagonist's sociopathic tendencies are "bad writing" when it was a deliberate choice on the part of the author. I don't know whether it realistically represented a sociopath's perspective or not, not being a sociopath, but I wonder why people tend to dismiss things they don't like as "bad writing" instead of saying, "I didn't like the author's choice to do x". Not liking something is fine. But I wonder where we got the tendency to group everything we don't like under bad writing, because it's a universal trait. Maybe I felt a little touchy because some people on Amazon seemed to be equating bad writing with anything that has elements of fantasy.

So the moral of the story is, bad writing isn't always bad writing. Except when I use the term, because everything I don't like IS bad writing, even if all these other people using the phrase are crazy-kins. (/End irony.)

Cough! Aurgh! Splat!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 13, 2010 -- 1:57 a.m.

I was going to write a review of Percy Jackson and compare it to Harry Potter today but I ended up sick with the flu, and sitting up makes me feel like vomiting. Hardly a situation conductive to cogent thought. I could barely even watch my beloved figure skaters do their pretty lutzs at Skate America. Oh, Daisuke Takahashi, your babies would look so refulgent in the verdure of my viviparous womb!

(See, I'm practicing, right? No, not avoiding studying for the GRE. No, not me).

I blame my sickness on trying to multiply decimals without a calculator--a feat I have not performed since junior high school but which is apparently centripetal to my future education. The GRE people prove they are not entirely bilious idiots by planning to allow calculators in the revised version of the test...which kicks off in August, long after the grad school deadlines have passed, alas for moi.

As always, the math story problems are slaughtering me. They have been my nemesis for about two decades, keeping me out of that coveted 95th percentile. The fact I haven't taken a math class in 5 years hasn't helped, either, but I swear to all that I apotheosize, I will conquer all things quantitative!

The blogo-writing world has semi-exploded in response to an (intentionally?) inflammatory article at which calls NaNoWriMo a waste of time and energy, basically pointing out that there are too many writers feeding the vanity presses anyway and we shouldn't be celebrating/promoting the production of junk. Carolyn Kellogg does a good job in refuting the analysis in her article at the LA Times' book blog, using skills that I will hopefully be able to imitate on my GRE argumentative writing sample. (You'd think I wouldn't sweat the writing samples, but I suppose one of the symptoms of my flu is advanced paranoia.) Other writers (like John Scalzi) have also condemned the article, rightly.

It's true that the original article sets up a foolish false dichotomy between reading and writing, but I will say that in certain sectors of the epic fantasy community, there are far more people who want to write 300,000-word books than people willing to plunk down the cash for 300,000-word hardcovers (outside of big names like GGRM). I suspect the proportion of wannabe writers to books published by the mainstream presses is higher in this genre than anywhere else, exception maybe romance. This is part of the reason the book I'm working on now is YA, where the market seems to have much more room for new writers. Being the internet, if anyone actually read this blog, I'm sure they'd take what I'm saying in a pejorative way, but allow me to exculpate myself: everyone should write epic fantasy if they want to. The merit of your ideas and your growth as a writer/human being has nothing to do with whether or not you are published, and it is quite possible that you will be. I love epic fantasy and read it and buy it when I can afford it. I am not saying don't write your epic fantasy, or that your epic fantasy isn't worth publishing.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure what I am saying, it's probably the flu talking, but the one thing in the Salon article I agree with is that it's a cool idea to pick a month and say, "let's read ten books this month." Not in competition with NaNoWriMo, but in conjuction with it, maybe in September? It would be especially salubrious for wannabe writers, who need to know the market they're entering into. And there's nothing better than closely analyzing other books to learn how to write. The basic tenets of grammar, plot, and character are all available for you to cadge from careful analysis of these texts. You don't have to memorize techniques out of context from some kind of writer's dictionary--as I am somewhat forced to do by the GREs--you have a nonpareil toolbox at your hand, one of almost infinite variety, weighing down the doughty shelves of your local library.

And I do think it's a tool that goes underused, because people tend to find their favorite authors and genres and keep to that niche for decades. Epic fantasy writers have stuff to learn from people like Robert Graves and Isabelle Allende, as well as stuff to learn from Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan.

So I would propose having a "Writers Read" book month (NaNoReMore?) where authors are required to read several books, some outside their favorite genres. And it can be like those things we had in elementary school, where if you turn in your book calendar all filled in, you can get a free pizza. Though I won't be paying for it, of course.

What am I writing for NaNoWriMo? I am not participating in it this year, unfortunately. I have far too much studying to do. (Sigh).

EDIT: No surprise, someone else has already come up with the NaNoReaMo idea.

On Style, and the GRE

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 10, 2010 -- 9:57 p.m.

Blaarg. I've started studying for the GRE and man, it is rough. This is the first time I've ever studied for a standardized test. I usually score in the 89-93 percentile without trying, but it's been awhile since school and so I've decided to actually buckle down and try to do well. Plus, my college GPA is B+ territory, because I'm a lazy student (I learn, I just don't care enough to go to the trouble of proving to teachers that I've learned), so I could use a little boost when it comes to applying to grad school and internships.

Anyway, I thought the vocab part would be easy but I've been going through an old Kaplan study guide and discovering there are tons of words I am apparently expected to know but don't. Granted, I know most of them, but still, I wonder, why? What's the purpose of having a vocabulary so complex no one will understand you? I've never heard anyone use the word 'prolix' in my life. Or 'cavil.' Or 'orotund.' These are apparently important words, though, because my entire future might be hanging on them.

My journalism teachers taught as to write everything we could targeted at about a fourth-grade reading level. Lowest common denomination. All of my teachers acted as if it was a tragedy that we had to talk down to people, but as I advanced in my career I realized that there was a good reason for that. The ideas are more important than the words we use to tell them, and the ideas we present should be as clear to as many people as possible. That's one of the reasons I'm not so anti-cliche as many writers. If someone writes, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," we all know what that means, right? It conveys the idea. Cliches are about the only time you can be sure that the reader and the author are sharing the exact same picture in their mind. Although, of course a clever writer would change the cliche so it still communicates the same meaning, but with a hint of world-building and humor. IE, "People who live in glass bungalows shouldn't throw lead-plated ostriches." Or something. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are masters of this.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is a high vocabulary is not an end-goal in and of itself. I think it's only useful in as far as it's...well, useful. Always go for clear communication of a new idea, instead of trying to use words that make you sound intelligent. If a reader stops and pulls out a dictionary, that's a bad sign.

Then again, I love reading Orson Scott Card because he uses big words like "corpuscular." And that's a cool word worth knowing. Some other good words I've discovered through the GRE learning process--jocose , turgid, peregrination, philogyny, mordant, moribund, volant and mendacious.

I also learned I've been using the word 'querulous' wrong all my life. I always thought it was a synonym for tremulous. Whoops. Hope that word isn't in any of the drafts I sent agents...


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 8, 2010 -- 8:23 p.m.

Random book titles sometimes come to me. I have no clue what they're about, but I'd love to read them. Today, I'd love to see: I Got Lost on my Way to a Vasectomy (And Now I Can't Find my Pants.)

Vasectomy is just such a great word. Unlike many of the words on the study guide for the G.R.E., which are just well, annoying.

WoT pumpkins, a good query

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 8, 2010 -- 2:50 p.m.

Love these Wheel of Time pumpkins by LynnKitty (from Brandon Sanderson's Tweet page). Very well carved!

In other news, it's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I'm not participating because I'm in the middle of the book which is the trickiest part so I don't mind if it goes a little slowly. But maybe I will next year.

There was a bit of a comment flurry on Evil Editor's page about writing query letters before your work is done. Personally, I always write my query before I'm done, sometimes before I start writing the book. It's a way of giving myself direction and nailing down the book's selling points/voice.

NOTE: I didn't say I sent the queries before I finished writing. I just have one for personal reference so every time I get yanked off on a subplot that doesn't matter, I can go back to the query and say, okay, am I taking away from these promises I've made in the query? Or does this entertaining tangent add and make the story better?

While query letter writing comes naturally to me--it involves the same skills I learned in journalism school--hook, summarize, explore consequences. In newspaper writing, we have a thing called "inverted pyramid" which means you have to pick the most important/interesting issue in whatever you're exploring and put that first, then sort all the other facts out also based on their importance/interest, with the goal being to NOT let the reader stop reading until they reach the end of the article (the least interesting part). But I think most people don't have that summarizing/sorting training, so that's why they have a hard time figuring out how to write a good query letter. Wow, I used far too many /'s in that paragraph.

Anyway, the best example I think I've ever seen of turning a bad query into a stunningly good query is HERE. The transformation is incredible--one of these books sounds boring, and one of them I would yank off the shelf in a heartbeat. And she points out exactly what she did wrong at first--create a laundry list of plot points, without making them interesting to us. Most authors tell you that interest comes from conflict, which is true, but it also comes from caring about a character. As far as I've been able to see, most bad queries fall into two categories: Too much information about a character's background, and not enough about what they're doing, and too much information about plot, and nothing about why it should matter to us. I'm not going to link to examples of horrible queries because they might end up as big name authors and ridicule me one day, but I think if you go to Evil Editor's site, or read through the listings at Query Shark, you'll quickly see what I mean.

I had a dream three nights ago that I needed to make a change to my query for my fantasy novel. That it was crucial for me to add a third paragraph containing more plot information. And I knew exactly how to word it and everything. Unfortunately, when I woke up, I forgot everything. Since my query rate is 25% positive responses, I'm not sure if I should mess with a winning formula or not, but my subconscious insists on it, so perhaps I'll pull it out and look at it again.

Anyway, I'm not going to have a writing prompt, but you might want to try writing a query for your current project and see if it doesn't give you a clearer picture of your work. Plus, then you can sit on it for awhile and perfect it, while you're perfecting your manuscript. My query for Skin Farm was pretty stinky at first, but now I like it...even if it's probably too short on details. Because I'm definitely trying not to fall into the third query trap I didn't mention: Too much world background--a disease that strikes almost every fantasy writer at some time in their lives. Pity these poor creatures, for they know not the boredom they cause.

Towers of Midnight

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 3, 1:38 p.m.

So much to blog about, so little time! I'll fill in gaps another day. I have notes from Scott Westerfeld's lecture at the Provo Teen Bookfest, a cartoon appearance by Neil Gaiman, and other goodies like that to comment on. I also had a first date with a guy that I enjoyed a lot, but I guess he didn't have fun since he hasn't called. I wonder, sometimes, how people can perceive things so completely differently? I wish my radar in this area was more well-attuned.

But I don't feel like writing about any of that now because I just finished a) revising a novel b) reading Towers of Midnight (I got number #60 and went to the release party dressed as Moiraine). So now I've got a headache, but I have to respond to the book before I can sleep.

Spoilers below, but I can say non-spoilery that I liked Towers of Midnight better than The Gathering Storm. Brandon Sanderson seemed to hit the characters better and the style is less jarring. Sure, there's sometimes a strange choice of words, especially when it comes to adjectives, that jerks me out of the book, but I think he has a better handle on all the characters, especially Mat--though he's still a bit clownish. Sanderson continues to do the best job humanly possible, and I can't think of any author that could have done better at capturing the world and the style.

Reading it also struck me with a sense of sadness. As I took the book and flipped through the pages, just catching hints of story here and there, I realized I could only do that for one more book--see sentences out of context and have no clue what they meant. For only one more book, I'll be able to read and speculate without knowing what happens. Then, all that's gone.

Sanderson mentioned at the signing that Harriet is thinking about putting out a more complete WoT encyclopedia after Memory of Light comes out. My response to that is kind of--what's the point? I enjoy reading the glossary because I'm hoping to get secret clues and hints about what happens next. After the WoT ends, I'll stop caring about these people ever again. I'll never get into an argument about who killed Asmodean again--something which Sanderson said was answered in this book. It must have been in the part I read when I was doped up on pain meds, holding my eyes open with my thumbs and trying to read. Or very subtle. I guess I'll find out the answer on the forums.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is it's like the finale of Lost. Or of Harry Potter. How many times did I read the series before the final book came out? Four or five times. And how many times have I read it since? NONE. Because the anticipation was half the fun.

And when Memory of Light comes out, it'll all be over. And it's not like I don't want it to end, and I think Sanderson will give us a more satisfying conclusion than either of those series', but it will still darken my life a little.

Anyway, onto the details.


I never realized how much I loved old angsty Rand until he was gone. I followed a sad, lonely shepherd boy who had to fight against the world and his own personal problems for fifteen years, and suddenly the angst is gone and deus ex machina, he can spot darkfriends with a glance and turn mold into bread. From a writerly perspective, this is an example of why characters need flaws. I loved the old Rand, and now I don't really care about him. It's kind of weird. And it's nothing I'm blaming on the authors--narratively, I can understand why it had to happen--but still, it's a bit like losing an old friend. We'll see if Mr. Perfect grows on me. This book wasn't really about Rand, so I can understand why it didn't offer him much in the way of a character arc, but it still feels too easy. I look forward to the challenges that will test him in the final book.

The Verin letter thing is stupid. She didn't give redundant information to someone else? Why? Why? Why? That's just dumb and unbelievable. If that was in Robert's Jordan outline, it should have been chucked out. Really. Also, some of the political manuevering in the book struck me as subpar. None of the Aes Sedai remembered that Rand was a monarch? I know it's hard to create characters that outsmart me, but these are supposed to be women who live hundreds of years, and who have been forced to practice craftiness by finding ways to get around their oaths. The Aes Sedai are masters of politics! COME ON! This was the same thing I struggled with when it came to Verin's black ajah oath, that the wording was so transparently, obviously easy to break with suicide, I decided that this must be intentional on the Black Ajah's part, so they could torture members to death for their information. But every time I see the Aes Sedai three steps behind the reader, it breaks the wall of disbelief a little. I also have a hard time buying the fact that Elayne can bribe three Cairhein nobles and the throne is hers, but that's really a plotline I'd like over with, so I'll give that one a pass.

Perrin's character arc was exceptionally well-done, although I was minorly frustrated by the chronological displacement. (Tam is in two places at once! And then he disappears for the rest of the book! Say hello, Tam! Good-bye, Tam!) I'll wave that off as a necessary evil. The writing in the Perrin arc also felt the closest to Jordan's own--I suspect a lot of it may have been Jordan's, but I don't know.

Sanderson also hit Moiraine's voice spot-on, I thought. Preachy but lovable. I'm SO glad to have her back. The eye-losing Mat scene is also pitch-perfect.

I hope Farstrider's background is a little more explored. Maybe the rest of the fandom unraveled this already, but the only thing I remember about it was Ishamael's whispers back one, was it? Anyway, it's fuzzy. And Luc. Seriously, why was he so evil again? Tigraine deserved better.

What's up with the Black Tower? My theory--we've just found out what happens when you distill a channeller through 13 Myrdraal and 13 Black Ajah. Welcome to Stepford Tower.

I totally called Danelle being Mesaana. Go me.

I'm glad Graendal survived to get a better punishment. She was my favorite Forsaken. I always figured she'd be the last one standing, and would crawl away from the last battle and reinvent herself as an evil farmwife. Or something. Possibly, I thought she might end up on Rand's side at the end as "redeemed" (ie, saw that Ishamael was cray-cray and switched sides), but I'm glad she didn't. And pitting the Whitecloaks and Perrin against each other was just her style. How many forsaken are left out now?

Oh, I read on the forums that Sanderson put the murderer of Asmodean in the Glossary. SHAME! I CALL SHENANIGANS!!!

Well, whatever. It was still a good book.

Fantasy Writing Class

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

October 25, 2010 -12:31 a.m.

Just registered for Brandon Sanderson's fantasy writing class for next quarter. So excited! So many good things happened to me in a very short time that I am woozily excited.

Weep with jealousy, lesser mortals!

PS: Blogger's color alga rhythm is failing. The dates on my screen show red, but they turn out black. I don't know the html for adding red, so you'll have to suffer with me until blogger figures it out.

Entertaining web site

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

October 22, 2010 --10:44 p.m.

I've been too busy to blog, but I've been thinking about it. Alas, too busy. Working on a revision of God's Play. Trying to finish Skin Farm. Outlining a new book in my head. No rest for the weary.

I found an entertaining website, which supposedly tells you what famous writer your style most resembles. I'm not sure how success it is--I stuck in two pages from four different chapters in four different viewpoints and got four different results. Cien is Anne Rice, Rachell is H.G. Wells, Sathain is Douglas Adams (WHAT?), and Ravke is James Joyce. So either I have extremely good character differentiation or, more realistically, I use such a wide-ranging vocabulary that my word choice is pinging the algorythms.

Of course, I like to think of it as me writing like myself--a distinctive style that is a blend of all the authors I love and admire.

I also won a book from Tor's contest--a book about vampires fighting Nazis. Cool! But I'm also annoyed because I just had an idea about a vampire doctor serving in WWII after I read about them sending freeze-dried, powdered blood plasma to the front. Vampires could snort it like cocaine.

Training and Trains

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

September 7, 2010 -- 5:41 p.m.

No writing prompt this week, because of the holiday. And my laziness.

I went to see How to Train Your Dragon in the $1.50 theater (because it's cheap, and a starving artist needs to cut costs) and was pleased to see them do a father-son relationship well--and no father killing. It defeated my expectations, because I half-expected some touching reconciliation scene over their deathbed. I'm glad they didn't do that.

Of course, by giving so much time to father-son issues, the requisite female was pushed aside to a basic cypher, but I can live with that. It was a good movie, if predictable plot-wise. Some worldbuilding holes were big enough to drive a snowplow through, but I enjoyed it anyway. I want to read the book now, because I heard it's completely different from the movie and I want to see the differences from off screen to on screen adaptation.

I had my friend Jack from Oregon here for a night. He's going on a motorcycle trip to Colorado. Quite the ride, but he seemed to be having fun. He especially liked seeing the salt flats, which are ghostly. I haven't seen a good salt flats setting in modern fantasy. I may have to use that.

The Writing Excuses podcast did an episode on third person limited viewpoints, and had a writing prompt similar to mine as last week. Great minds think alike, eh?

Tor's got the book trailer up for the next Wheel of Time book. I'm not a big fan of the actress they got to play Moiraine--she looks way too young and the horse doesn't look delicate enough--but it's getting me really excited for the release. Although the Thom-Moiraine lovey-dove thing weirds me out still. It struck me out of nowhere the first time I read it, but then, looking back, I saw the inevitable. But it still strikes me as weird. The latest ebook cover features Egwene battling Seanchan, which is cool, although it looks much too traditional wizard-on-dragon action for me.

I also watched a documentary following the actor who plays Hercule Poirot taking a trip on the Orient Express to get into character for PBS' Masterpiece Mystery adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. He got to drive the train! How cool is that! I didn't realize that they ripped off a car from the Express to serve as a setting when the Germans capitulated in WWI. The Parisians displayed the car proudly...until Hitler invaded and, as turnabout, used the same car as the stage to dictate terms when France surrendered to Germany.

I also didn't realize the personal costs back then. To reduce the Orient Express' journey into Italy by half a day, they blasted a new route through the mountains, costing 60 lives. I never realized it was so dangerous, and I wonder if a measily half-day was worth all the deaths.

I also like the spy stories from the Orient Express, which was an easy way for intelligence agents to cross borders. One English man, posing as a butterfly enthusiast, made butterfly sketches that were actually a secret code detailing Balkan fortifications and helped the Brits out during WWI.

This is why I love history. So many fascinating stories. One day, I will incorporate the sketch artist as spy into a story somewhere.

Writing Prompt--Two Points of Views

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 31, 2010 -- 3:04 p.m.

I'm reading a book that features the POVs of multiple siblings. As soon as I saw that, I sat back and started waiting for the father to die. It took 100 pages for him to kick the bucket, but kick the bucket he did. After George R.R. Martin did that so wonderfully in Game of Thrones, other authors have tried imitating it with various levels of success. Most of them end up failing. At this point in time, I'm so jaded, I prefer the authors who kill the father off pretty quick, or make it so obvious he's going to die, you're interested in the how, not the actual event. Books whose only twist is that the father dies bore me, because I can see it coming from fifty miles away.

The amazing thing is, when I read Game of Thrones the first time, I didn't see it coming. Looking back, I'm not sure how I missed it. Fantasy books are like Disney moives--if daddy's there at all, daddy's going to die so that the kids can go on adventures. Mommy is sometimes left alive--perhaps because our social views of women allow for a more passive female character. Mom is helpless, but dad, if he were alive, would do something, so we have to kill him for the sake of the plot. I've heard discussions of "orphan syndrome" related to middle grade and young adult fiction, but not in fantasy as a genre. The only example I can think of at the moment where the dad didn't die is Wheel of Time.

I think why Game of Thrones succeeded in the whole orphaning is because George R.R. Martin is such a wizard with slight of hand. He had us focussed on the mystery, the politics, the threads going on in other realms... (the wall, Daeny). We were so busy wondering if Cercei was going to kill Robert or Jaime was going to kill the children or what that we didn't notice the main character's death sneaking up on us.

So, if you're going to kill a father-figure in your book, at least give me a mystery to distract me while I wait for the inevitable assassination/beheading. Better yet, maybe you can let a father live, occasionally.

August progress report: I'm currently reworking a revision of God's Play; adding occasionally to Skin Farm, which is now two-thirds done; and plotting a new epic fantasy novel called City of Murderers, which may be my next project. I have more projects than I have patience to write. I'm listening to Terry Pratchett audio books and the aforementioned father-killing novel, which so far has been a demonstration of incredibly poor writing. I keep wondering if it's a translation, because many of the sentences make absolutely no sense. Terry Pratchett, on the other hand, is brilliant, and even more brilliant when read in the dry, British accents of Nigel Planer.


Title: Agree to Disagree
Genre: Any
Type: Character

So I had a dream. I don't remember the content, but I do remember this--I was watching something, something significant. I woke up and rolled over and went back to sleep. I repeated the same dream, except this time, I was someone different. And it showed. The changes in my perception were slight, but important. My actions were slightly different as well. Both character perceived each other's reasons for doing things completely inaccurately.

This happens in real life. Three people will remember the same conversation differently. They will also remember the same event differently.

I want you to take two characters through a scene. Any kind of scene--an argument, repairs to a space station in orbit, a battle against a red-skinned monster with three tongues. Write the scene from one POV, and then write the same scene from the other character's POV. How accurate are each character's perceptions? You can have them be diametrically opposed, if you want, but I think this exercise is more interesting with two characters who view the same things with only slight differences.

You can do this one of two ways. If you're like me, a discovery writer, then you write the two scenes and then compare them to gleam the differences in personality and such. If you're an outliner, you might come up with a list of major differences between how the characters see the world and try to work them into the text.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 27, 2010 -- 12:20 p.m.

Since I did my week's book review on Weds (yes, now that my vacations are over, I'm going to try and be better about the blog schedule), I figured today would be a whatever today.

This whatever is that there are burglars prowling my neighborhood. They've hit two houses in the area in the past two weeks or so. As far as gossip can be trusted, they are a man and a woman team in a truck and trailer who apparently watch houses for a while before breaking in. They're smokers--unusual enough to stand out, in my neighborhood--and are dumb enough to leave cigarette butts inside the houses they rob, so with luck, the police will be able to use DNA to identify them.

However, these aren't your ordinary smash and grab thieves. They apparently have some kind of device that can grab the access code off automatic garage door openers. So they watch a house to determine when nobody's home, use their device to trigger the code to open the garage door, bring their trailer inside and then load up on electronic stuff and drive away. No having to carry expensive electronics out in plain sight, or anything like that. Relatively low risk, unfortunately.

A couple of my friends from Oregon were robbed a few years ago. Even though they got most of their stuff back, they're still traumatized. Homes are a place of safety for most people. Even though we logically understand that this safety is an illusion, when that illusion is stripped away, it hurts people deeply. There was a show a few years ago on Discovery, I think called "To Catch a Thief" that showed people how thieves would break into their houses so they'd get better security stuff. I found the show morally questionable because I worried it taught more people how to burglarize than how to defend themselves, and also because it focused on suburbanites who lived in areas where burglaries were usually as frequent as a rain of mashed potatoes. Fear-mongering, pure and simple.

But getting back to the point: Anyway, the people I live with expressed worry, but I told them I thought we were reasonably safe given the burglars' modus operendi (no house is completely safe, but in this case it's one of those, I-don't-have-run-faster-than-the-bear, just-faster-than-you situations, so we just have to look less appealing than the house next door). There are a lot of reasons our house is a bad place to hit. Our movements are not very predictable and my car's almost always in the driveway, so it makes an efficient decoy. We're also located at the top of a hill, making it both visible from below but and hard to see down at the same time. If you have a lookout stationed at the top of the hill, you're only get a few seconds of warning, and you aren't going to do much better if you station watchers at the junctions of the nearby streets because there are so many of them. There's just not a good way to watch all the methods of approaching the house, while remaining out of sight yourself at the same time.

Anyway, I found it strange that my subconscious had already started planning how to rob my own house, enough that I could explain why it was a bad idea. I wonder if it's just writers who do that, or everyone. I love reading about heists (low tech and high tech) and complicated assassination plans (Day of the Jackal was awesome), not because I plan to rob or kill anyone, but because they're interesting puzzles. When I went to a campaign stop by a Presidential candidate once, I thought, "How would I bypass security? How would I kill this candidate? Could I get away with it?"

That's why I've watched the news stories around dead spy Gareth Williams with such interest. Because there's a part of me that thinks what if I were a counter-spy and wanted not just to kill him, but to completely impugn his good name, how would I do it? After all, if you give police a lurid answer that nobody wants to look into that closely, it would be a good way to chase people off the scent, right?

Well, just because occam's razor usually works in real life doesn't mean it works in fiction.

Maybe I think about this stuff because I have a naturally criminal mind, but also because it's interesting, pitting my intelligence against theirs. In everyday life, I will try to plan terrorist missions and put limits my budget and my means, trying to figure out what will cause the maximum effect with the minimum commitment of resources. Some times, I frighten myself with how easy some of the things I think of could be. Good thing I'm on the right side. And I guess I'll be an invaluable asset to the resistance movement when the Canadians invade.

Does everyone do this, or am I just crazy?

PS: Yes, of course I've figured out the best way to rob my own house. No, of course I'm not dumb enough to post it on the internet.

Mockingjay Review (Mild Spoilers)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 24, 2010 -- 2:46 p.m.

I just finished Mockingjay and...boy, did it blow me away. It completely beat my expectations. Though not perfect, it was great. I couldn't put it down and now I'm going to go back and read it again from the beginning.

But first, I thought I'd do a review. There are spoilers, but probably not the kind that will wreck the book for you, so read at your own discretion.

I was right about the cheerful cover being completely wrong. From the picture on front, you would expect Katniss to rise up over conflict as something pure and beautiful. You would also be wrong. This book is the darkest of the three, without doubt. And when I think a book is dark, you know that it's dark.

After an admittedly rocky start with a patchwork of flashbacks that left me wishing Scholastic had hired me as copyeditor, we find Katniss Everdeen in the bowels of District 13. Suzanne Collins manages to confound my expectations. Contrary to my worries that the new district would be a magic wand to erase all Katniss' problems, instead we're introduced to a new kind of dystopia. One of supply shortages and secret tortures and rigorous schedules tattooed on your wrist every morning. Instead of being offered a clean choice between good and evil, Katniss must decide between bad and worse.

These are the decisions that make readers sweat. These are my favorite kind of decisions to read about, and to write about.

No matter which way she turns, Katniss' choices will lead to bloodshed and death. One scene close to the ending is an epitome of useless gore. While the final pages may suggest hope (and possible a prequel involving Haymitch, PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE!!!), the unforgiving decisions the characters make before the last resolution will leave you wondering if history is doomed to repeat itself.

Collins' writing shimmers when it comes to pastoral moments--a ring of dancers taking what joy they can in the midst of war, for example--but she really shines when it comes to the violence. Which you'll find here in gobs of delicious, blood-rending horror. No, Katniss doesn't end up back in an "official" arena, but she is forced to kill and watch people die in a variety of ways. I was somewhat disappointed given the technology-heavy world of the Capital that so few high-tech weapons were showcased. I didn't quite buy the in-world explanations for the limited use of aircraft and WMDs, but you have to admit that close quarters combat does make for great reading. I particularly enjoyed the toys I did see--including a voice-activated bow with incendiary arrows. Guess what I'm putting on my Christmas list?

A sly reference to Farenheit 451 also made my dystopia-loving heart beat a little faster.

On other military matters, I was disappointed that--despite previous' books build-up of the Capital's insurmountable armies--there were very few military details about how the impoverished outer districts overcame the better-armed central government. But as a tactical buff, I can never get enough about that stuff, and the Hunger Games triology has never been about that.

So what is it about? In my opinion, it's about how we as a society see violence. How we glamorize it (even in book form, which makes Hunger Games all the more ironic, since it's criticizing our arena-watching tendancies while forcing the book's audience into the role of spectators at the same time). While the previous books have explored violence for entertainment value, this book explores violence for propaganda value. Katniss has always been exploited as a symbol, but never so obviously and tastelessly. The rebellion does what the capital has--put makeup and full body-polishes on murder and gruesome death. Think Wag the Dog, post-apocalyptic style.

But while decrying the exploitation of violence for power, the book also manages to rack up an impressive bodycount. My only other major disappointment was the way the death of one of the characters was handled. Apparently, it took place between books, but it is rarely discussed or thought about. It's possible I missed mention of it in my admittedly quick read, because Katniss' lack of grief over this particular individual seemed strangely out of character.

The love triangle is, of course, still in force, although it's the part that interests me the least. Unlike previous books, Gale takes off from the page. While before, I considered him a cardboard cypher, more obsticle to Peeta than actual living being, this time he's a living, breathing character and I can see why some girls on the forums were rooting for him. Collins has a gift for dialogue that rings true in Gale's mouth.

While Gale takes center page, Peeta--kidnapped and in the hands of President Snow--takes a bit of a sideline in the process. Peeta fans may not enjoy the twist his character takes, but I loved it in the way only a fellow writer can. Curse you, Suzanne Collins, you diabolical genius!

It's nice to see the character development of Katniss over the series. I may have enjoyed reading about the decisively temptestrous heroine from the first book, but I still liked the indecesive, temptestrous heroine from the third. While the romance is interesting in and of itself, it's really a stand-in for a choice between two different worldviews. Anger and vengeance, symbolized by Gale; and forgiveness and peaceful reconciliation, symbolized by Peeta.

Though of course, neither character is strictly bound by that nature in the book. Both characters break their assigned molds, making for some of the most riveting moments in Mockingjay. And whenever anyone gets too sure of themselves, Collins is there with a curveball ready to throw them off their stride.

In the end, the choice isn't black and white. Katniss is part Peeta, part Gale, and all herself--a lonely girl hurt by choices that are far too big for any one person to shoulder.

PS: Collins is on book tour. You can find her schedule here. I may make it over to Washington for a signing in November, if I'm feeling ambitious. Also, Publisher's Weekly has an article on the marketing on Mockingjay. Definitely worth reading if you're thinking about marketing strategies for your own book.

Mockingjay Release (No Spoilers)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 25, 2010 -- 9:52 a.m.

Haappppy Hunger Games Day! (in an 'Effie' voice).

I'm back from Oregon just in time to grab Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. I was sick this weekend, too sick to make it to the midnight release party, but I slogged over to Barnes and Nobles with a wealth of gift cards this morning fifteen minutes after it opened only to find out they were out of copies. OH NOS!!!!

Except then I saw they still had boxed sets of all three up front. So I grabbed one. I don't own the other two, so that worked out all right. I'd rather have paperbacks (easier for my hands to hold, I've been suffering from mild wrist pains lately--don't know what I'll do when Way of Kings comes out) but hardbacks will have to do. I couldn't wait even another day for more books to come in.

It's hard to describe the depths of my black despair when I found out they were all out. And then, when I found the boxed set, I went skipping through the parking lot. Yay!

Before I read the book, I wanted to celebrate the event. Because there's a part of me that's sure the book can never live up to what I want it to be. I doubt it will be a trainwreck, but whenever a series I love ends, I'm usually more disappointed than satisfied. Like certain TV shows of late, the end of a series often ends with a whimper, instead of a bang. I'm still surprised they divided the Harry Potter 7 movie into two. After all, most of that book was spent with the main three wandering through London wondering what they should be doing. Why do we need two movies of that?

Anyway, I suspect Mockingjay will be an entirely different book. Catching Fire relied on a lot of retreads from the first book. Not a bad thing. I found the repetition satisfying, although having President Snow allow condemned contestants an open, uncensored forum really strained my sense of disbelief. He needed to go to the "evil dictator school of logic." And I found the whole "Oh, District 13 does exist" thing annoying, since it's a bit of a magic wand. I hope the author doesn't wave it to make all the problems go away.

But I can't see Mockingjay relying on the arena/arena rigamarole a third time, so this book will have to be entirely different than the others. Will we still have a way for Cinna to show off his fashions in post-revolutionary district 13? Will Effie's bizarre hairstyles feature a return appearance beneath the toxic-bombed ashes? We'll see.

One thing that amazed me in the pre-release chatter was the number of teenage girls arguing about whether Katniss should end up with Peeta or Gale. It's always amusing that, while I'm interested in the technology, the survival, and the politics, other people are interested in the romance. That shows a book's greatness, that it can satisfy audiences on more than one level.

Speaking of which, seriously, why would anyone vote for Gale? I don't get that one at all. Peeta is nasueatingly perfect, but Gale has had hardly any screen time. He talks big, but he hasn't done anything, except get the tar flogged out of him for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot of people seemed to think Peeta or Gale will die by the end of the book, to make room for the other, but I don't think that's necessarily true. It could happen. If it does, I'm betting Gale would die to save Peeta.

Part of me hates the monogamist conceit this was built upon. Why can't she have both? Gale can be her kept boy in the remains of district 12, and Peeta can be her husband away from home when she's made queen of the new capital.

Katniss dying would be kind of a cool ending, but I think that would annoy too many people. I don't think Suzanne Collins' editor would let her get away with it.

Guess I'll get to find out! I still wish the third book was a different, more dangerous color. I'm not a fan of the randomly broken swirls on the cover, either. The first two books looked more dramatic.

Weird Walk

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 10, 2010 -- 1:30 a.m.

I have found the secret to getting agents to ask for partials: Go on vacation. If you are in a place where you cannot access your novel, badda-bing, the requests come in.

I dreamed last night I enrolled in a school of ninjas. I fought evil. It was awesome.

I had a weird experience I thought I would write down. I was walking up from the MAX (Portland's metro) to the house of the friend I'm staying with and I managed to get completely turned around. I wasn't thinking about my surroundings because a) of above partial request b) I don't have any sense of direction. By the time I figured out I was lost, I saw a familiar landmark and thought I knew the direction I should go in. Only then it turned out I didn't and, in trying to get out, I landed smack dab in the middle of a set of gated communities and couldn't get out.

Anyone who knows me knows I'll do this. I get lost walking across a street. Ask me how many debate rounds I missed because I got lost. Actually don't ask, because it's happened so often, I stopped keeping track.

It's after midnight. I've walked two miles. I'm a little annoyed at myself, but not particularly worried. Every street I go down ends in another frickin gated community. I go toward an apartment complex downhill figuring the apartments will open out onto a main road and I can find my way back to the MAX station and try again. Unfortunately, there are some twenty buildings, and I pick the wrong direction and find myself wandering from stairwell to stairwell staring up at six-story complexes.

My cell phone got no reception up there, but I managed to find a few bars in the middle of a park, with the sprinklers attacking me full blast. I call my friend, but the reception gives out, though not before my friend gives me a general idea that I should go downhill.

Anyway, I find some girls out on the porch of their apartment and ask for directions. They cannot believe I walked up the hill. It's just a hill, but they make it sound like Mount Everest. They are freaked out and certain I am on drugs. They offer to let me call my friend but my phone has reception again so I do it myself. He's got mapquest up and can give me directions, all I need is the address and a point out of the complex.

Except they cannot believe that I can walk my way home alone in the dark. They are certain that muggers are going to find me and get me. I roll my eyes and point to the fact we're surrounded by mini-mansions and there are like two streetlamps to every house. This isn't downtown Portland. This is suburbia central. How many muggers would be waiting to jump out at pedestrians at midnight on a Monday anyway? Those would be some pretty bored muggers, since I hadn't seen a single pedestrian for an hour. No victims = no muggers.

The kicker--the women don't know their own address OR how to use mapquest. Who lives in that kind of neighborhood and doesn't know how to use mapquest? She kept saying my address was turning up the map to Arizona but that was because her DEFAULT STARTING LOCATION was in Arizona and she didn't know she needed to change it. She thought it was because the address I'd given her was a lie and I was casing her apartment for a burglary or something.

Anyway, they eventually talked my friend into coming out to get me, which I feel horrible about because it's midnight and seriously, I can walk fine, I just need to know where to walk, but he is very nice and comes and the girls wait with me to make sure I'm not kidnapped by all the horrible muggers out on the streets.

It was very strange because they kept asking me my age, if I was sober and "why did you walk up that hill" -- repeating the same questions five or six times. I wonder why they thought my answer would be different, if the fifth time I would say, "Ooh, your clever tactic of asking the same question over and over again has led me to confess that I'm actually on heroin!"

I tried explaining that I knew my friends lived on a hill so I walked up the hill thinking it was the right hill but that seemed an unsatisfactory answer. At least one of the girls was mentally challenged, I believe. She took the book I was carrying from me (Janny Wurts' Traitor's Knot) and started reading it aloud. It was very strange. I felt like I had wandered into a Kafka book. The girl told me I'd inspired her to read Tale of Two Cities.

It turned out I was on the wrong hill--the one next to it was the right one. So all it took to get back to where I should have been was a five minute drive, and probably a fifteen minute walk. I should be grateful that the women were trying to look after me, but I was left feeling bemused. The whole time, they were so afraid of me. Only one of them would talk to me at first. The rest dashed inside their apartment, beset with terror. Of a 5' 4", 120 pound girl who has arms like spaghetti noodles. I suppose I could have been packing a gun. They mentioned some kind of security at the apartment, though I didn't see any.

It's good to know that I'm not the worst victim of suburbanite's terror out there. I am grateful to them for their help. It took bravery to overcome their fear of me, even if it was...somewhat misplaced.

Drafting of Beautiful Reality

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

Free afternoon snuggling with a friend's laptop while on vacation. Time to write!

I thought I'd put it here for now, because the large amount of spam on my email will otherwise have it buried.

BEGINNING: Beautiful Reality
THESIS: One-legged boy who works as an assassin when all minds are linked by computer must go into the computer to rescue his sister from the computer mafia.
INSPIRATION: Want to experiment with present tense. Also, Inception. Good movie, but it could have been better, done more. I liked it, but I also felt a little disappointed because all the buzz made me think that it would be so much better. I think if I had walked into the theater with zero expectations I would have been blown away. I can't put my finger on what's missing...I think all the twists and turns in Dark Knight. I could kind of see the plot coming, down to the end, and Leonardo DiCaprio didn't feel like the right actor to carry the lead to me. And it had some moments of extraordinary visual beauty, but nothing like the wonder of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Still, it was one heck of a summer movie. It's nice to see original films (not remakes and sequels) and movies that don't assume that their audiences have the intellectual capacities of five year olds. I was additionally amused because an excerpt Brandon Sanderson read from the Way of Kings involves a gravity fight. Great minds think alike. I wonder how many stupid people will accuse him of ripping it off.

ANYWAY... typing

CHAP 1: Gepetto
In my dreams, I have two legs. I'm not a freaky Pinocchio waiting for some blue fairy to sweep in and turn me into a real boy. My knee doesn't end in a massive net of tubes and sticky bio-flesh that smells like burning plastic and looks like a robotic turd.
In my dreams, I have real skin and muscles. Real veins pulsing with real blue blood.
In my dreams, I don't have to kill people.
In my dreams, I can still run.
But now I'm limping, pushing my hand on a warm doorplate smeared with the grease of years. Pressed by the sweaty fingers of men who came in nervous but left relieved or maybe never left at all. The bartender inside looks like a bent wire, with his copper skin and bald head, swollen joints and bones that stick out. The papery skin of an old person.
His eyes widen when he sees that I'm young, fourteen (though he probably thinks I'm younger, people always think I'm a child and it makes me mad), and his smile deepens.
I'm so sick of dealing with Marvy's pedophiles. Is there anyone working for him who's not a pervert?
"What'll you have, boss?" the thin bartender asks, though his slurring lips make the "s" sound like "f" so it comes out as "boff."
Two Geisha clones in the corner giggle and flutter coal-black eyelashes at me. Their faces are half-hidden behind razor-lace fans that buzz with enough electricity to stop a human heart. Despite their stupid platform shoes and the white, stretchy kimonos that make me think of cocooned skin-bugs, I know that Marvy never hires a Geisha bodyguard unless she's killed someone. Their lips are painted, wet and red as blood.
"I don't want anything to drink," I say, trying to ignore the way their eyes tickle the back of my neck. I can't look afraid. Not yet. "I want a girl."
The pervert looks disappointed.
"My sister," I quickly say, sickened by what kind of girls the people who come into Marvy's bars usually want. "She's gone from the Pave."
The bartender scratches his earlobe, which has a big hairy black mole dangling from it. This time, his grin does not look so friendly. He knows the Pave is Marvy's private hostage preserve. The metal detector didn't go off at the door, so he knows I'm not carrying steel, but plastic explosives, or wooden swords or guns made from processed carbon could all be slicked past the booby examine. I could be carrying a thousand things in my black trenchcoat and pair of teal green sneakers.
"Marvy knows where she is," I say. "I want to see him. Now."
The bartender jerks his head. "He's in back. But the question is, does he want to see you?"
"He will," I said. "After all, I'm a Skinner."
The bartender's look is sadder this time. He thumbs a door open in the wall. The wooden slats slide apart, and I can smell Tooth Fairies--the menthol cigarettes that Marvy loves. "Back there," he says.
The door is dark. I go inside.
Marvy is younger than the bartender, but still old. I have to look at him through the walls of the glass tube that dropped down on me from the ceiling. Protective custody. If Marvy leaves me in here, I'll suffocate. But I'm his best Skinner, so sure he won't. Or almost sure.
He looks at me with small black eyes almost completely buried in the fat flesh of his forehead. Crinkles around his lips and nose make him look like he's smiling even when he's not. For a fat man, he moves with an almost birdlike grace, his sausage fingers deftly picking roast snails out of shells smothered in garlic and olive oil. His black, pressed business suit is clean because he never spills a drop. The snails make little wet crunching noises as they vanish between his wormy pink lips.
"Tommy, my boy," he says affectionately, reaching out as if he would tousle my hair if not for the glass barrier between us. Everything else but me and his table is in shadow, while we stand in two squares of yellow light. I hear hushed laughter coming from the other tables. And soft, nervous coughs.
I wonder how many other men have heard those coughs before they died.
I glare at him. "I want my sister, Marvy."
Marvy's eyes widened. "Well, I don't have her in my pocket."
"You have her, Marvy. When I went to visit her flat in the Pave, she was gone."
"I had her transferred. She's doing some work for me."
I swallowed. I knew what that meant. The whorehouses. Young women stacked in rows of pods, their minds trapped in virtual reality while men used their empty bodies. Or their bodies were controlled by pleasure computers or prostitutes whose own bodies were too old and ugly to attract clientele. They called the sub-Contracted bodies "Gloves."
"The debt's almost paid off," I say to Marvy. "You were going to let her go soon."
"And this will make the payments go faster," Marvy replies. "Frankly, kid, I'm doing you a favor. It'll be quicker this way. And it wasn't as if she wasn't giving it away for free."
If the glass wasn't between us, I would have thrown myself at him and torn his nuts off. "Put her back, Marvy. I've paid you enough for that much."
Marvy shrugged. "Your work hasn't all it should be, of late. I thought you could use some extra incentives."
I shiver. He knows.
Marvy takes out another Tooth Fairy and lights it. He sits back, puffing contentedly. "You know, I got into the business about your age, Tommy."
"I don't want to--"
"Listen!" Marvy cuts me off angrily. "I'm trying to teach you something. I was thirteen when I began running drugs for my father. Weak stuff. Black Cream and Pleasure Diadems, mostly. But the shit scared me half to death. The things it was doing to people. To customers I knew. There was this one woman who came at me once, tearing her hair out. I mean literally tearing her hair out, pulling out thick, dirty brown clumps that she'd shove in my face. She had lipstick on, but only on her bottom lip, smeared over her chin. By drool.
"I wanted out, but my father wouldn't let me stop seeing her or any of the other people we helped mess up. He said to me, 'Marvy, my son, sentiment can get you killed in this world.'"
Marvy leans forward, his fat gut swelling over his knees. "And he was right. Because when three men with crowbars starting beating the crap out of him, trying to find out where I was after I taught their punk ass brother a lesson, my father refused to talk, and so they beat him to death. He died to protect me."
Marvy leans forward and looks me in the eye. "Do I look like my father, Tommy? Do I look like the kind of man who'd do that, Tommy?"
"No," I say.
"Shit no. Because I'm not. When kidnappers sent me my wife's fingernails I said, 'to hell with it.' That's all I have of her. Her fingernails."
He taps his neck, and I realize for the first time that he's wearing a tight gold band around his neck, half-hidden by his enormous, stubble-covered jowls. Ten white slivers dangle from it on little golden chains. I can just make out the old flecks of red paint.
"I'm not like that," I say, revolted. "I'll never be like that."
"You will be, Tommy," he tells me. "Lack of sentiment. That's what makes you such a good Skinner."
He gestures. The glass tube around me goes up. But before I can do anything but suck in deep lungfulls of fresh air, two men with huge bionic shoulder muscles come and grab me by the arms. They haul me up by my arms so I'm on the toes of my one remaining foot, the weight of my entire body hanging on my shoulders. It hurts like hell. I can see one of them out of the corner of my eye. Brutish face. The empty, slack eyes of a Glove. Marvy always switches the minds of his bodyguards, because it's easier to deal with pain if it's not your own body. Though it makes them slow and stupid, too.
They have matching tattoos on the centers of their foreheads. Blue, swirling things that glowed in the bar's old light.
"In fact," Marvy continues lazily to me, reaching out to pinch my cheek, "you're too good. I've decided you'll work for me, or nobody, Tommy. I'm not going to train you anymore only to have you turn around and become the tool of one of my enemies. I want a Contract." The capital was audible in his voice.
"You saying you won't tell me where my sister is unless I agree to work for you for life?" The idea of wearing his tattoo like his goons did, of being fully and completely owned by this man, made me feel sick and dizzy.
"That's right, genius-boy," Marvy says. "You kill for me and only for me. For the rest of your life. It'll be better for you too, this way. Forget your sister and whatever lies she told you about me. I'm a good man, and you're too good for her. She's past. Together, Tommy, we can create the future."
"And if I say no, you'll kill me?" I ask.
"No," Marvy says, but I can tell he is lying. "I'll give you a week to decide."
His dismissive gesture sends the two men carrying me out through the bar. Past the knobby, pervert bartender. Past the Geisha clones who look at me with wide, dark eyes. They dump me on a trash-covered sidewalk. They give me a kick in the hip for good measure, so it hurts when I have to struggle up. One of them is going to take my artificial leg and play keep away but the other one tells him we can play with me later.
They wouldn't do that to me if they could see what I was capable of. If we were in the Mindplay...
Well, we weren't. When it came to ripping people's minds out of their bodies, I was a giant. But in the real world, I was just a cripple.
A cripple with one week to find his sister.
Locating the body was easy. My sister's new Cube was actually slightly larger than the rooms at the Pave, and the bed she slept in was soft and well-tended by nurses. Women in tight white shirts came to roll her over every three hours, to monitor her temperature and make sure her bowels were always sparkling clean.
Penrose looked like she was asleep, her cheeks full with the faint pink blush of a Flash addict. Her brown hair hung around her shoulders in dark, curly waves. Unlike the last time I had seen her awake, it looked clean and fresh. The same color as our mother's.
I couldn't touch her, of course, not through the plastic sack-bubble covering her body, floating up and down with her breathing. The body's immune system is always weakened when someone goes into deep mind-sleep.
I put my hand as close to hers as the nurses would let me. I could feel the heat of her skin through the plastic. Unnaturally hot, but I couldn't see a drop of sweat on her. Nobody was home. Her mind was asleep, unable to regulate her simple bodily processes. The computer tubes jammed down her throat did everything for her. Told her when to breathe. Made her eat. Even stimulated her bladder so she'd know when to pee.
I hated looking at her this way. It was like looking at a doll.
"Visiting hours are almost over," a nurse tells me.
I glare at her, but she has the no-nonesense eyes of a bureaucrat who would call the police on a boy who just wants to spend some time with his older sister.
"All right," I say. "Can I have a few minutes alone with her?"
"No," she says.
I sigh and turn back to Penrose. A lot of sisters would abandon their brother, if they had a defect like mine. She would probably have been better off if she had. She wouldn't have gone into debt for my medical bills after I got run over. She wouldn't have had to start selling Flash to get cash to pay off ruinous interest from Marvy. And then...she wouldn't be addicted.
She should be in a music school somewhere. She used to sing to me, when we were orphans huddled under the tracks of the Monorail, listening to the hiss of New Jerusalem's flag as it snapped in the cold wind. Chapped lips and stomachs with nothing but water inside. That had been our life, until she sacrificed everything she had to make it better.
It was better. At least we had something to eat, now. Although she'd never know it. She'd grow old and die like this. Dreaming.
Unless I could save her.
The nurse pulls at my shoulder. "Time to go," she says curtly.
I nod and let myself be pulled away.

--end of chapter one--

Just so you know, that took me approx. 45 minutes to type. Like I say, I'm a fast typer!

The tense thing probably isn't working as well as I thought. I was thinking present tense would make the whole thing feel more dreamlike, but I think it's just distracting.

I think it sounds better in my head than on paper. My first drafts always tend to be a little heavy on the melodrama.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

August 1, 2010 -- 4:53 p.m.

Attended my friend's wedding yesterday. Saw oodles of people I haven't seen in forever, most of whom I barely recognized. I had a lot of fun catching up. And dancing. And singing karoke, which like I can be convinced to do like NEVER. If I track down someone else's pic of me swing dancing, I'll be sure to post it. I think I felt more light on my feet and beautiful than I have since...

Of course. I haven't danced like that since I was sexually assaulted.

Four years ago was it? Gee how time passes. I will have to take a dance class when I get back. It's always frustrating to think you've driven away all the lingering ill-effects only to find something you didn't know you'd lost.

As expected, there were bittersweet feelings, too. Mostly frustration that I can't be everywhere and that I will never be able to be as deep a part of the lives of the people I care about as I once was. I miss the days when we were all trapped together in a boring town and there was nothing else for us to do but hang out with each other.

Anyway, the bride and groom looked beautiful and happy. I wish them good dreams in their new lives to come.

I'm back! And gone!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 26, 2010 -- 3:47 p.m.

Back from Hawaii! Now off to Oregon. I'll tell about the Maui trip another time. I have some really cool pictures of this garden that had insane plants. Like, stuff you'd expect to see on Mars if it had water. Sea turtles were everywhere and SCUBA diving rocks and three different kinds of dolphins rocked the side of our PWF tour boat. Oh, and white chocolate macadamia pancakes with coconut syrrup? TO DIE FOR. I miss fresh pineapple.

Well, I guess that was my trip. Read one of the most horrible pieces of fiction I have in awhile. It was supposed to be a black comedy, if black comedy is defined by stupid suburbenites whining but never doing anything about their crappy lives and jumping into bed with anything that moves. Oh, and their kindergartner boy has his eye shot out in a school shooting at the end. Are you laughing yet?

I'll be back in two weeks, after an old friend's wedding. I'm going to try and see lots of people I haven't seen since high school, which will be for the win.

Skin Farm is about 80 pages from reaching the 80,000 word mark now.


Title: Place
Genre: Any
Type: Setting

So many of the great books have at least a side-trip to fun foreign locations. In classic fantasy setting-based travelougues, journeying strange places and meeting strange people is all you do. Gotta love the weird alien planets, too. I've been pouting because I can't find my copy of Dune, the epitemy of a great setting.

Unfortunately, a lot of the epic settings of the present just don't feel very epic to me. Maybe because I'm a jaded reader and I've seen it all done. Blah blah forest blah blah blah space suit. You know what I want to read? A fantasy novel set in Afganistan! There's probably one out there, but I haven't read it yet.

But that's just me. Most people want to read books about places they would actually like to visit. So if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why there? If it has to do with social connections, it doesn't count. Pick somewhere where you don't know anybody. Pick what you think sounds really cool about that setting and expand it, incorporate it into your world. Now write about your exotic fantasy-land vacation. Go wild. Talk about stuff that will never ever come up in the novel, because your character is a million miles away, but this tourist will see it.

Avatar was a success largely because it had a cool setting that was beautiful to look at. Can you replicate the same emotions? The same feeling of strangeness? Or will you try and evoke a different emotion, terror or awe?

Away I go.

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 17, 2010 -- 6:43 a.m.

Tomorrow I'll be in sweet, sweet Maui. I DRINK YOUR TEARS OF JEALOUSY!

But maybe The Onion's parody of publishers and vampires will cheer you up.

My favorite line: "[On] the same date three rival publishers will release novels featuring a bad-boy mummy, a bad-boy cyclops, and a bad-boy Mayan vision serpent."

I'd read the one about the Mayan vision serpent.

Books Reviews: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Paper Mage

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 15, 2010 -- 1:31 a.m.
It's amazing how a little thing like an argument can completely throw off your mojo for an entire day. It destroys time you don't have, and leaves you frustrated because there's no way to resolve a conflict. Most of the time, you have to forgive, forget and move on, even though you crave the satisfaction of the other person admitting that you're right.

But enough of that. Anyway, here's the promised book reviews:

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

For writers, there are two types of books in the world--The books that make you think, "I wish I had had that idea because I could have done it so much better." And the books that make you think, "I'm so glad I didn't write that book, because otherwise I couldn't have gone along for the ride."

The Lies of Locke Lamora is definitely the latter. But what else would you expect from a Campbell award winner that the master George R.R. Martin himself graces with a blurb? (Speaking of which, a Game of Thrones preview is up on HBOs web site. If you're a fan, go check it out.)

Locke Lamora is a thief who steals too much. In a city of glass and canals, where gladiators battle sharks and thieves are ruled by hidden gods, Lamora is a conman who plays both sides against the middle. He's ostentatiously working for a man who is the fantasy version of the Godfather, yet at the same time he's stealing from the upper class nobles that the Godfather has declared off-limits. He's kind of a Robin Hood...except that he keeps the money.

Lamora is on track for pulling off his largest heist ever, until a mage in the service of a mysterious vigilante decides to blackmail Lamora into helping his revenge scheme against the Godfather figure and the nobles both.

Who doesn't love the fictional antics of a conman? This was a guilty pleasure for me. Yes, I got my credit card number stolen once and it sure as hell wasn't funny then, but that doesn't stop me from loving Lamora as he goes on his merry, rampaging way. It's always easier to sell me on righteous thieves than righteous assassins, even though the assassin character was very popular in fantasy for awhile. It's one thing to rob rich people of their money, it's quite another to kill them, and I thought that of lot of assasin books, much like the "pimp" phenemonon that inexplicably gripped pop culture, glorified a lifestyle that, in actual reality, was very sordid and exploitative. However, because I enjoyed Lies so much, and he only ruins people instead of murdering them, I guess I have to set my principles aside. It helps that the class conflict in the book is so demarked. It's also amusing that, though Locke Lamora steals, he doesn't really know what to do with the money afterward.

This book crackles with tension and suspense. Granted, not every twist and turn was unpredictable, but it's rare for a book to startle me so frequently and to such good effect. Lynch has mastered "the surprising-yet-inevitable" art of the twist. I found my jaw dropping in the middle of the novel, and I was cursing by the time I had to set it down and go to bed.

Like the Da Vinci Code, most chapters ended with a hook to drag the reader forward. Except in this book, for me, they always succeeded. What made this feat even more impressive is that the book utilizes an unusual structure, spacing chapters about Lamora and the other character's pasts in between chapters that propelled the main narrative forward. In other words, Scott Lynch could keep me wanting more even when I knew that the stakes were low--no character deaths, just a lot of info-dumping. Yet I loved every page.

Besides being a master of colorful characterization, Lynch also has a deft hand with description. Few of the details of his world struck me as stock fantasy set dressing leftover from the LOTR movies.

Lamora is also notable for not having much of a romantic subplot. This is strictly a buddy comedy. Well, in some parts, a buddy tragedy. There is a love plot in the sequel--a book which might even be superior to the first--but (SPOILER ALERT...Scroll over the text to see it) it's pretty obvious from the beginning that's it's going to be a case of women in refrigerator syndrome--a term propagated by comic book readers and applied to the love interests of superheroes who are fated to die for the sake of the plot.

Be warned, for those of you who aren't a fan of adult language, Lamora has it's fair share of it. It's not meant as a book for children. Also be warned that the second book ends on a cliff-hanger, and Lynch's blog suggests he's been having problems that may delay the third book for some time.

But if Hunger Games was the best book I read last year, I suspect The Lies of Locke Lamora will be my favorite of 2010. I read it back in February and haven't found another book that even comes close to toppling it. Lamora was fresh and exciting in a genre that so often embraces clones. I can't wait to read the sequel, and depending on how the rest of the series goes, "the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence" might even be up there with the works of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.


Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter

I don't know if there's ever going to be another book where the magic system is centered entirely around origami.

Xiao Zen is a female paper mage struggling in a fantasy world reminiscent of Imperial China. She folds paper creatures to bring them to life. Her family is disgusted by her profession because they believe it will harm Zen's chances of marriage, but her manipulative aunt sees it as a way to guarentee herself immortality. Zen herself isn't sure what she wants and struggles throughout the book to come to terms with her talent, her feminity, and her duties to her family.

I'm putting this book next to the Lies of Locke Lamora because they both use a similar narrative system--one chapter on background, one chapter on the present, alternating throughout the book. While structurally similar, the purposes are quite different. Lamora, though populated with a large number of memorable characters, is a plot-driven book, and even the background pages give you a dallop of mystery. Paper Mage, on the other hand, is a character driven book, where the suspense comes more from the character's decisions than from anything about the plot. Because I'm not as much a fan of character-driven fiction as I am of plot-driven fiction, this didn't necessarily always work for me as well as Lynch's book did. For example, Xiao defeats the big bad evil warlord in the middle of her book, not the end, which honestly left me scratching my head a little.

Cutter is excellent at capturing a culture not her own. I'm not used to being in character's heads who are so alien from me. I think a lot of fantasy readers are so used to female characters who embrace the modern tennants of feminism, so it's surprising when we see a woman so firmly torn between career and family. And one who often believes that she is made less by the soft squishiness between her legs. Her attitude frustrated me to death sometimes, but also helped me see into a world that is admittedly very far from my own.

The setting itself is interesting. I loved the tidbits like part-rat/part-dragon monster, and how Zen has to find creative ways to defeat things with paper.

Paper Mage is an impressive study in characterization and cultural exploration. Writers can learn a lot about using foreign cultures and different ideas in this book. But if you're expecting a lot of suspense, swordfights and flashy fireballs, this is definitely not a book for you.

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 12, 2010 -- 2:46 p.m.
Ugh, I meant to write that book review today, I really did, but I've been sick all day.

I passed my Scuba certification with flying colors. Whether it was the dramamine, the decongestant, the ginger, divine intervention, or bloody-headed stubbornness, I didn't struggle with vertigo or sea-sickness.

However, now I have water stuck in my inner ear with the result that I am very dizzy and can't take three steps without falling on my face. It's weird because I feel like the water is so deep, it's trying to leak out of my sinuses. I don't know if it actually is or not, but it feels like its gushing around the inside of my face. Not pleasant.

In the meantime, I'll probably write a book review on Monday instead of a writing prompt. Because I really do want to point out two interesting books.

But that'll probably be my last post for awhile, because I'm off to Maui in six days.


Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 9, 2010 -- 11:19 p.m.

I'm tired. I've had a discouraging couple of days.

Mostly, I'm disappointed because scuba diving, which I really enjoyed, may not actually be a hobby I'm capable of. We had our first open dive yesterday, and I had to sit out half of it because I got so sick. I came very close to vomiting all over the water, and the waves were very small.

I was fine until I got to an underwater platform at 20 feet or so. Then, I tried to swim off it to a neighboring platform and suddenly I was just sick and dizzy and I couldn't see anything. I wasn't scared, because I knew I could just bob up to surface and be fine. But I did feel very sick. I tried to figure out how I would throw up with my breathing apparatus in my mouth, because I was worried that I would breathe in my own vomit and choke. And I wondered where everyone had gone. I could see how easy it would be to get lost underwater.

Part of it was that my partner did not stay with me like he should have, and I was looking around for him and I couldn't find him. So I got dizzy and turned around because I was trying to find him and he'd already swum ahead about thirty feet or so away when I was expecting him to be right beside me. Part of it was, even though I felt like I was fine boyancy-wise, someone told me I should put more air in my BCD so I did and I bobbed up like a cork, too fast. I didn't have enough weights on me, which didn't help.

That's the worse thing about having people look after you. Sometimes, they don't respect you enough to think you know what you're doing. They make things worse by distracting you and trying to protect you--and they yanked me by the shoulders and told me to do their way. Yanking me around does not help my stomach.

I can dope myself on anti-nausea drugs and maybe pass the open water dive--the instructor says its very common for people to suffer from intense vertigo the first time--but the point is, out in the sea, there will be more waves. And I will be sick. I thought that being under the water would make it better, but it doesn't.

I mean, I threw up in a yacht on Utah Lake, for christsakes. I throw up when I'm nervous. I throw up when I dance. I throw up riding in the car. Some days, I throw up for absolutely no reason at all. I live on a steady diet of Tums. I don't know if it's ulcers or what, but I've always had a weak stomach, and it interferes with so many things in my life. I've never bothered to go to the doctor because I don't think they could make it better, but maybe I should.

It's so frustrating to try so hard, to want something so badly, and then to fail because of something that is so completely out of your control.

Tomorrow, I try again. I will try to eat more mild foods and take more pills. Hopefully, it will be better.

Prompt: Puzzled

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 7, 2010 -- 4:19 p.m.

I enjoyed my trip to the sand dunes with my family. I wish we could do something as fun every week. I think I'll be picking sand out of my shoes for the next decade.

So I just finished Da Vinci Code, which I had never read before. I read it so I could see what the fuss was all about. Spoilers abound in the post because, you know, it's like...old news.

I wasn't a fan. I'm glad the book brought more people to the bookstore than who normally would come, but I didn't like it. It was a little slow for a thriller. Give me the short, soft stylings of Lee Child any day of the week. That man can do more with the phrase "he said nothing" than any other author can do with a paragraph of emotive description (including myself.)

However, I'm not going to criticize it, because writers living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and you can't really argue with success.

Other authors have used "the right blood" concept, even if I haven't seen it linked with the holy grail except in fringe literature. It seems odd that the "importance of blood" fantasy trope occasionally migrates over to popular literature. Another book I read that involved blood had a quest to find a descendant of Hitler. Then they found his little granddaughter, who was about 8 or so, and the heroine shot her on sight because she had Hitler's charisma. And the hero was absolutely okay with murdering a child because she had the same blood as her father. I may be wrong about the age, but even if she was a young adult, she still hadn't done anything yet. I think she was in the middle of saying how evil her grandfather was when the heroine shot her, too.

My attempts to figure out what that book's name was led me to all sorts of interesting information, including a web site that says Angela Merkel is Hitler's daughter via artificial insemination. The evidence: A doctor of Hilter's was allegedly carrying around a vial of his sperm around Eastern Germany about the time Angela Merkel was conceived. Also, they share the same birthday.

Wow, who knew I was Jesse Jackson's illegitimate daughter? After all, we were both born on Oct. 8.

I wonder sometimes why people demonize politicians with really ridiculous arguments when ordinary arguments will do. I remember receiving all sorts of crack email during the last presidential election telling me Obama was the anti-Christ signalling the end of days. Well, I'm still waiting for that apocalypse.

Did I ever tell you I saw a PBS special on the 2012 Aztec calendar thing, and one professor talked about email he had received from a mother asking if she should poison her children in 2011 so they wouldn't have to suffer it? WHY ARE PEOPLE SO INSANE!

But back to the Da Vinci Code: I was amused that, when the book won a plagerism settlement, the judge added codes to his opinion. I'm not sure an American judge would have gotten away with being that flippant. Unless they're Scalia. His dissents are so fun to read, even if I rarely agree with them.

What can writers learn from Da Vinci Code's popularity:

• I did admire Dan Brown's penchant for research, even if not all of it was accurate. The way he planted enough facts that sounded plausible in the beginning of the book made the later leaps of logic feel more solid.

• He placed strategic hooks to draw readers on. He had a mystery pulling at the reader in every chapter, and he added another layer on it every time. If I wasn't always absolutely enthralled, I could at least see that it was meant to be enthralling. Red herrings also abounded. I was absolutely sure the French inspector dude was "the teacher."

• Any press is good press. The controversy surrounding it probably spiked interest in the book. I was amused when I read the Catholic web site debunking the Da Vinci Code because it says, "Its publisher, Doubleday, released it with much fanfare in March 2003 and heavily promoted it. As a result, it debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and has remained on it since..." Which implies readers had nothing to do with its popularity. I bet publishers wish they had the power to create a Da Vinci Code level seller with every book. But the publicity surrounding it, both at its launch and later, did, undoubtedly, help.

• Sometimes an unusual theme or wacky theory can be really powerful, if it makes good watercooler chat. I often think that it's very difficult to create a completely original work because at least one person has done anything you ever tried to do already. Well, I have never seen a thriller based around the descendents of Christ, holy grail and goddess-worship symbology before. I would never have expected to see those elements in a best-selling book. I'm not sure picking a loony, delicious gossip-worthy theory and structuring a book around it could actually work again, but who knows?

But the bottom line is this: people like puzzles. The same people who do the cryptograms, crosswords and sudokus in the newspaper read a lot of books. If your book doesn't have a good element of mystery in it, you're missing out on a chance to entrance the reader. Every time you can add a puzzle--even if it's something small, like the evil character's motivation--you make it that much harder to put your book down.

Title: Puzzled
Genre: None
Type: Whatever

Pick an element: character, setting, world-building detail, plot, etc. and add a puzzle. It can be anything--a puzzle about a character's true identity. A word anagram that will give away the final location of that magical McGuffin. A cryptic sentence left in a mad scientist's diary. The bad guy's motivation. See if you can withhold something until the end, and drop enough clues to leave the reader guessing and hungry for more.

What makes an interesting puzzle to you? Do you like word games? Number mazes? Whatever you do like, see if you can combine it with some other element in your book to make a good mystery. Little or big, both can be useful.