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Jan. 27th, 2014

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Some Quiet Place (Kelsey Sutton)

Some Quiet Place
Kelsey Sutton

In my opinion, personifying Emotions and Elements never gets old. Even I have a short ten-minute play in my past where a girl has to face her own Arrogance, Tedium, Morbidity, Fear, Desire, Malice, and finally Hope. Ran at a student playwriting festival back in 2004. One woman came up to me afterward and told me in heartfelt tones that I had described her life.

After all, it's so much easier when you can condense Emotions from something tangled and abstract into a person. You can relate with a person, argue with a person, fall in love with a person. The relationship between Liz and Fear is the major hook of the book, and one that ultimately pays off.

My main issue with this book is pacing. The beginning was perfect, the ending was a little fast, but the middle dragged. Her brother's revelation about the "I'm not Liz" line is great, but needed to happen much sooner, about the same time as her conversation with her mother in the kitchen, when she asks where her daughter is. That would have been an easy transition, if her mother inspired doubts and she went up to ask her brother. And after that it needs to snowball to breaking the block. Instead, we continue to wander through emotional limbo, killing any momentum that might have built up.

Aug. 19th, 2012

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Giving In to Gravity

Man, I've been out of the SFF scene for over a year now. The last short fiction I submitted to a market was in May 2011. I don't regret my hiatus--among other things, I got a master's degree and an amazing job--but getting back into the flow is going to be work.

I understand now why people give up writing seriously. At this point, it would be easier to just keep sliding, write a 300-word blip a month, and pretend that I've still got it, while never finishing anything, never submitting anything. Dreams and goals are exhausting. I already work 50 hours a week on average--when I get home, I just want to chill. My day job has far more potential for success than my writing. The market is so tight anyway--maybe I'll wait to see where publishing is going first.

Sound familiar?

When those thoughts pop up in my brain, I recognize them instantly--they're every classic excuse for not pursuing a dream. They're seductive. Or rather, they're like gravity--persistent, and inevitable, and omnipresent, and it's so much easier to give in and let yourself fall.

But I will not let myself fall. I will not give in, and I will not give up.

My comeback plan hangs on a dilemma right now--novels or short stories? I'm really a novel writer--all my shorts try to turn into novels--but it's so much easier to workshop shorts, to get feedback from fellow writers and slush readers whom I respect and admire. That dynamic exchange of feedback is a powerful motivator.

First I guess I should catch up on the stacks and stacks of to-be-read books around my apartment. Library books are going to take priority, then half-finished books I own:

1) Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers (Anna Sklar)
2) Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave (Stone & Ende)
3) Un Lun Dun (China Mielville)
4) The City & The City (China Mielville)
5) Antonio Gaudi (Juan Bassegoda Nonell)
6) Angel of Darkness (Caleb Carr)
7) Territory (Emma Bull)
8) Spin State (Chris Moriarty)
9) Indigo Springs (A. M. Dellamonica)
10) Flesh & Fire (Laura Anne Gilman)

Going to keep it at ten for now. It looks more manageable. Those top two are novel research, and I already renewed them once, which I guess answers my dilemma of what to work on first.

Sep. 5th, 2011

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This is a fascinating information visualization project. Wordle is a visualization of text, the homunculus is a visualization of the brain, and maps can be recreated and proportioned according to a number of factors, but I've never seen anyone do this with cinema before. As the creator points out, it is a time-based medium, and the additional dimension means that few people have tried to tackle a purely data-based representation.

This makes me wonder: how could you visualize music, another time-based art? I'm sure someone has done it...

Jul. 10th, 2011

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Alice in Wonderland

Finally got around to watching the 2010 Alice in Wonderland, and the last third was... a disappointment. There are at least five people who could have turned out to be the Jabberwocky, some less logically than others, but all heartbreaking. When I saw Absalom going into his cocoon, I was sure we had a winner.

But no... the Jabberwocky was just an anonymous ugly dragon. Alice was just the generic dragonslayer. I'm not saying we should have some fluffy ending where she's taming the Jabberwocky instead of killing it, or something similarly vanilla, but a little more nuance. Or coherence. I got all these brief glimpses of genius, but they didn't GO anywhere.... argh.

Jul. 1st, 2011

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The Angel Experiment (James Patterson)

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
James Patterson

Continuing with my YA reading... I got 54 pages into this book before I started skimming.

The pros:

Max, the Maximum of the title, is actually a girl. And it's not a big deal, just slipped in detail by detail.

The cons:

"Yes, you, standing there leafing through these pages. Do not put this book down. I'm dead serious--your life could depend on it."
Does that sound familiar? Like, 54-book series familiar? Even now, when I can laugh at the clunky writing of the Animorphs series, I never forget how heartbreaking they are. In comparison, this book seems half-hearted, or maybe dumbed down.

"Chapter 2: I jolted upright in bed, gasping, my hand over my heart."
Yes. Yes, she woke up and Chapter 1 was All A Dream.

"Wincing, I pushed downward with all my strength, then pulled my wings up, then pushed downward again."
If I were writing a book about bird-children, I would research the mechanics of avian flight. The power stroke is forward as well as down, and the back stroke is, as the name implies, back and up. Plus, she's jumping from a cliff, so this shouldn't be flapping flight at all--she should be going right into soaring flight.

""He was my son!... You killed your own brother!"
These are a page apart, but clearly they add up to "No, am your father."

I think this might have been a lot stronger if the book had started in the cages, at the School. I'm thinking of Colfer's The Supernaturalist here, and how starting at the orphanage put the entire book in perspective. But The Angel Experiment starts after they've escaped and are hiding out, and while they talk about how horrible the School is, it's not real to the reader.

I might recommend this book to very young readers, or maybe I'd just tell them to read Animorphs instead.
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I've had the Scrivener for Windows beta for a few months now, and this past month I really started using it. I've always been one of those bare-bones people who prefers to use Word instead of any fancy writing software. That still holds true for shorts, but I've turned back to one of my novel projects, and its scope exceeds the organizational capacity of Word.

Scrivener's true value became apparent once I started importing all my research files and images. Normally I feel guilty using multiple files for research; I label one "Geology" and then stuff several books worth of information into it. That's probably an artefact of the floppy disk days--I started writing when 720 KB was the limit of my data mobility. That baseline 11 KB of an empty Word file always makes me feel wasteful. So I'll use one file, and then have to index it by memory to remember which files holds the notes I need. Image files, of course, will be stand-alones, which means to look at more than one I'll need an entire stack of them on my Taskbar. Awkward.

But with Scrivener, I just import everything into the Research Files section, in as many subdivisions as I want. And with the navigational pane, it's easy to see and access what I have. While setting up the project, I discovered my research was more comprehensive than my memory told me. That's always my biggest "writer's block"--I decide I haven't done enough research, and then the project sits idle for months. But with all the research in front of me, I have enough to push forward and fill in the gaps later.

Since July 2010, my progress bar looked like this:

Kings Ascending
17,455 / 85,000 words (20.5%)

Now, June 2011, it looks like this:

Kings Ascending
19,338 / 85,000 words (22.7%)

Hey, it's progress, right?

Jun. 8th, 2011

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Shiver (Maggie Stiefvater)

Maggie Stiefvater

I haven't read any YA in a while. (I finally got a public library card this week, and man, why did I wait so long? I forgot how amazing public libraries are.) But I seem to remember that even when I was in that target age range, I had trouble not with the complexity of abstract ideas but the language in which they were expressed. In other words, if you explain things simply enough, YA readers can grasp more hard science than adults might think. Writing for YA, you might minimize your linguistic contortions, but you don't shortchange your ideas.

That, I think, was my biggest disappointment with Shiver--I felt like the book shortchanged itself in its ideas. The introductory scene is bizarre and frightening, and the design of the book, from jacket copy (the cold. the heat. the shiver.) to the temperature measurement under each chapter, sets you up for something really overwhelming, some deep revelation about the nature of cold and heat and winter and wolves. Heck, I would even take a clumsy reference to global warming.

But Shiver stays at the surface level of the idea--the werewolves are human when warm, wolves when cold--and never goes deeper. The mystery of Grace--the main character who gets infected but never changes--is also resolved at this surface level.

There are many good things about this book--the character relationships are minimally but poetically expressed. Here the depth of the characters achieves what the concepts didn't--their faults and paradoxes are unwrapped like fragile things, gently and lovingly--in a way that rings true but is expressed very simply. And YA readers will enjoy the development of the romance from distant-yearning to love-against-all-odds.

So I guess I'm saying it's a good book but it could have been much more. It coulda been a contender.

May. 16th, 2011

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I've exhausted my list of markets that accept novelettes/novellas, so instead I'm putting up Diviner (16k, dark fantasy with geology and renewable energy) on my WIP website. It's under the Free Fiction page.

I'm considering queuing this up as a YA novel... if I start the story earlier, the main character will be younger and just entering this particular world. Another interesting thing is that spoilerCollapse )

Mar. 6th, 2011

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While entering another datapoint into my submission sheet, I discovered a curious thing: for three years running now I've submitted to WotF's 2nd Quarter, and 2nd Quarter only. Apparently I have an internal timetable that reminds me every March that WotF is the biggest and best game out there.

Feb. 12th, 2011

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The New Baen's Bar--Do Not Want

I haven't been to Baen's Bar in a few days, and now I come back and discover it's ugly. I am seriously disliking the new interface, mostly because it no longer has sidebars. The Bar used to be partitioned into three little windows, with the root listings to the left and the biggest window for viewing the post you'd selected. You didn't have to keep backing up and refreshing to get to different posts.

I got so used to convenience of Baen's sidebars that I spent only a day on OWW, because the interface annoyed me. Now both interfaces annoy me.

Whatever. I'll get used to the new set-up. Because I am a creature of habit, I hate new interfaces reflexively. But still, this time I think they've really lost something.

ETA: Five minutes later, I'm already getting used to it. Maybe not so much that I'm a creature of habit as that I'm leery of the unknown. Now that I've wandered around a bit, it's not so new and scary.

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