Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nearly there...

For anyone visiting for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, please be aware that I live out on the Pacific coast, so it's still Saturday here for a little while longer. I see many of you already have your first posts up. Mine will be out soon...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tag time part 2

This is the second meme I got tagged with recently, this time by the lovely Lindsey, at Jesse Said Yes.

The rules of this meme are:
1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let them know

As I mentioned in part 1, these memes have done the rounds so much it looks like everyone is abandoning attempts to pass them on. So, as before, if you're a follower, and if you haven't already been tagged, and if you feel like giving it a go, then consider yourself tagged!

Because my current WIP is still lying on the operating table, with bits spread out over a dozen Word files, finding page 77 was a bit of a challenge. So I went back to the most recent version where I have it all packed together neatly into one document in standard formatting.

Here is my excerpt from Ghosts of Innocence, where Shayla faces three opponents and unexpectedly finds them reduced to one ally:

There was a blur of movement and a soft hissing sound. Two heads thumped to the floor followed by two crumpling bodies.

Weasel grinned at Shayla, who had stepped smartly back to avoid the arcs of blood. She glimpsed a cold line of blue fire winking out as Weasel sheathed his knife. A shimmerblade. That was how he'd managed to behead the two of them so effortlessly.

"They were getting too curious for comfort." Weasel spoke for the first time. Shayla was taken aback by his voice, rich and firm, and completely at odds with his raggedy appearance.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tag time part 1

There's a couple of popular memes doing the rounds right now, and they've both snuck into the quarantine zone surrounding The Bald Patch. I've seen both of these pop up on so many of the blogs I visit that there can't be many people left to tag, so I'm going to cheat and say if you're a follower, and if you haven't already been tagged, and if you feel like giving it a go, then consider yourself tagged!

I got a double dose of this first one: eleven random questions.

First, Jen Burke at Jen's Bookshelf posed the following:

1. What is the one book you couldn’t live without?
What a stinker of a question to start off with, Jen! To pick any one book would do a disservice to all the rest. But if I had to pick one, I think it would be Codex Seraphinianus, because it's just the weirdest, most unique book I've ever come across.

2. What can you see out your window at the moment?

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
The dish that was billed as "sweet and sour pork" served up at dinner on my third day at university. All us newbies wondered why none of the second and third year students bothered with dinner that day. We soon learned!

4. What fictional character would you most like to marry?
Probably Eowyn, from LOTR. Any gal who can stand up to a Nazgul has my vote.

5. If ever a fictional villain was going to win, who would you want it to be?
Shylock. I think he got a raw deal.

6. How many types of cheese can you name off the top of your head?
I just rattled off fourteen before I started running out of ideas, but I bet I could name a lot more if I wrote them down.

7. If you didn’t want to be a writer, what would you want to be?
An architect.

8. Can you play a musical instrument?
Not really. I am teaching myself a few tunes on the piano. Actually, as it's an electric keyboard with lots of settings, I guess I could say I can play at least fifty instruments, couldn't I?

9. Do you own a Kindle or a Nook or any sort of e-reader?

10. If you do, how many books do you have on it?
Not applicable.

11. You just got published. In a glowing review, someone calls you “the next [insert famous author name here]”. Which famous author has to watch their back now you’re on the scene?
Frank Herbert.

Then Melissa, at Melissa's Imaginarium tagged me with the following:

1. Do you experience road rage or commuter rage if you don't own a car?
Sure. Ever been cut off when you're riding a bike?

2. What do you do when you're rolling along in an argument and realize you're wrong?
I try not to get into those kinds of arguments in the first place! Although I do have some strong views, I am quite content to be proved wrong and to learn something new. I find the best way to avoid digging myself into a hole like this is to go in with questions rather than statements, in a spirit of exploration. I do, however, make a strong distinction between facts, which I could be wrong about, and beliefs or preferences, which by definition are not open to challenge.

3. Cookies or cookie dough?

4. Movie quote that best sums up your current situation.
If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been. (Sam Gamgee, LOTR)

5. What pet peeve drives you homicide crazy?
People not pulling their weight. Especially so-called "celebrity" socialites who add nothing of any worth to the world.

6. What was the most outrageous lie you ever told that someone believed?
After a student riot between neighboring colleges at university, I had to answer some questions by the Dean. My room at that time overlooked the street, and he asked if I'd seen any flour or water bombs being thrown from our side of the street. I said, "No," despite the fact that I had been one of the ones doing the throwing!

7. What guilty pleasure movie or CD people would be shocked you own?
I don't think I own anything that would shock anyone. Does that shock you?

8. When was the last time you went to the movies alone and what did you see?
You have got to be kidding me! I can't remember that far back! Let's see, it might have been Star Wars, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail, both back in the 70s.

9. What item did you have to have, but had huge buyer's remorse after purchase?
Practically every pair of pants I've bought in the past few years, where I kid myself that my waist hasn't grown that much yet, only to be proved wrong after wearing them to work for a day.

10. Favorite condiment

11. If you could bar none get away with it, would you have some illegal fun?
No. My hyperactive guilt centre would get in the way.

And now, if anyone wants to play, please leave a note in the comments so I can visit and see your answers, and here's my 11 questions:

1. What was your favorite movie of 2011?

2. If you had to spend the rest of your life on another planet, what single item from Earth would you take with you?

3. Sweet or savory?

4. Do you ever get so mad at a book that you throw it against the wall?

5. Mathematics: art or science?

6. What is your favorite animal?

7. What is the longest you've ever been without taking a bath or a shower?

8. What profession would you like to consign to the pit of oblivion?

9. When did you last go for a cycle ride?

10. If you are a writer, have you ever written someone from real life into one of your stories?

11. Are there any pieces of music that can bring tears to your eyes?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Challenge draws near

OK, hands up who's up for the A to Z Blogging Challenge this year?

I'm in.

The Challenge hasn't even started yet, and already I feel like a winner. One of the co-hosts, Jenny Pearson at Pearson Report, held a tag game last month and drew my name at random from the list of participants. She sent over some digital artwork, which arrived this week.

Trouble is, I've now got to fight Ali over whose office it will hang in!

I've taken the set of prints in to be framed. Much umm-ing and aah-ing over choice of mats and frame. I'd forgotten how tricky it can be to find just the right ones, complicated in this case by finding something that will look good with four separate prints in one frame.

As for the Challenge itself, I have a number of posts drafted now, which takes some of the stress off. I don't normally post all that frequently, so one a day is a lot to ask. I'm also relieved to find that the posts I've done so far have been fairly easy to write.

I'm planning to write about topics related to the world of Ghosts of Innocence, so this is all subject matter I should already know inside out. But I'm finding that my world still manages to surprise me at times.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Changing fashions

I caught the reading bug many years ago at school (the writing bug took rather longer, as explained here). Those were the days when they had real chalk blackboards and we wrote everything out longhand with fountain pens. Remember those?

I borrowed books from the library, borrowed from friends, and assembled quite a collection of my own books, mostly sci-fi.

Recently, I got my hands on some of those old novels and started reading, to see how my memory lived up to reality.

It's been a remarkable trip down memory lane, and a stark reminder of changing fashions.

These were stories written in the middle of last century. Let's set aside the strongly "Boy's Own" style, the highly stereotyped characters, stilted dialogue, and the inevitably dated descriptions of technology. The breadth of imagination is still amazing, and this is what drew me in originally.

What struck me most, though, looking through the lens of current trends, was the style of the writing itself. Most of the action was written in passive voice - shields were raised, torpedoes were launched, etc. The whole text was laden with more adverbs than ants on a picnic. And much of it was delivered in full-on narrative lecture mode, interspersed with dips into a more immersive style.

I found myself skimming long passages because I was tired and it was just too much like hard work to read.

I won't comment on whether or not these stories would get published nowadays, but I'm sure they wouldn't survive five minutes in any of the critique groups I've been part of.

The question is, does that make it bad writing?

I think that some of the "rules" we hear so much about are probably founded in good practice. But many of them, I think, are not so much rules as current fashions.

In my writing journey, I've had to unlearn years of schoolboy indoctrination to be expressive with lots of descriptive words. Were my English teachers teaching bad writing, or did I just misunderstand?

And I'm struggling to pinpoint exactly when "He walked quickly" became such a pariah. Adverb! Kill! Maybe it's the programmer in me, but there's actually a certain design elegance in separating reusable qualifiers from the primary verb, rather than insisting on a distinct word for each possible nuance.

How about "show, don't tell"? At times, I've gotten seriously peeved at critiques that pick up on Every. Single. "Tell".

"Don't tell me she's angry/frightened/upset (delete as applicable) - show me!" You know, sometimes I just want to get the emotion across (quickly!) and get on with the action.

So, is it inherently wrong, or a passing phase? Let's think. Isn't this called "storytelling" for a reason? The oral traditions were highly narrative.

In fact, I would argue that too much emphasis on showing can be dangerous and lead to misunderstandings. For example, I am extremely bad at reading emotions in faces, so giving me descriptive clues about the expressions a character is pulling is likely to fall flat for me. What description is so unambiguous that you can be sure every reader is going to get what you intended? Just tell me she looked angry, and get on with the story. Believe it or not, I can fill in the gaps for myself. I do have a vivid imagination.

And that brings me back to why I started skimming in so many places. As a reader, I think I've become soft and lazy from being spoon-fed too much easy-to-digest writing. Maybe today's writing fashions are influenced by shortening attention spans and the demand to have everything painted for us. The old style of storytelling, of narrating, placed a great burden on us as readers to envisage the scene for ourselves. We had to work at it. But at the time, for me anyway, that wasn't a burden, it was part of the joy of reading!

So, my question for you is, do you think there are any absolute and timeless measures of good writing, or are they all fashions subject to change?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Little rays of sunshine

Ever get those days when several entirely unrelated things pop up out of the blue in quick succession? Sometimes it's bad things, and life just sucks. Then, sometimes it's little rays of sunshine that make you smile and life is good.

Yesterday evening was one of the latter.

First, I got home to an email from an old friend who I've not heard from for eighteen months.

Then, the wonderful Jenny at Pearson Report dropped me a note to say I've won some fantastic digital artwork for taking part in her A to Z Blogging Challenge tag game. Jenny is one of the co-hosts for this year's challenge. Go and check out her blog, and maybe sign up for the challenge. I'm in, and I'll talk more about it later on in the month.

Finally, I've had a snippet of a tune running through my head for the past week which I've been trying to place. I knocked out a few bars on the piano - my rough approximation from a rather patchy memory - and drove Ali mad also. We've been scratching our heads ever since.

Then, last night, on TV someone started playing the piano. "That's it!" I said. A quick search through the program credits and we had it: Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.

I also realised that my memory was slightly off. All I could recall was the rising sequence of notes, and I'm happy to say I got the notes themselves right, but I thought it was a repeating sequence 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, when it was actually 1-2-3-4-5-3-4-5.

Well, I was close.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Special evenings

Saturday evenings are usually Mum & Dad nights, when the kids eat in front of a movie, and then we two have a special meal to ourselves.

But, with Ali and Matthew off at a Scout camp, it was Dad & daughter night instead.

I don't know what the Scouts are eating, but we settled down to steak & rice topped with mushrooms & cream, and a caesar salad. Megan doesn't like mushrooms, but she does like the cream they're cooked in.

And the evening's entertainment? Kung Fu Panda. Fun movie.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Are we there yet?

Finally made it to the 100% mark with my current round of revisions. This means all chapters revised at the line / paragraph / scene level. That feels good!

But are we there yet?

Not quite. I still have a few rounds to go.

First, there's a couple of specific scene additions to write and weave in. Then I need to work through with a handful of more global comments in mind. Then I'll print it out and read in hard copy, red pen in hand.

The most troublesome bit, though, is what to do with the opening.

I still have the original opening chapter, with the adult Shayla sending a starship crashing into a planet.

But I also have a short chapter with the young Shayla being hustled out of her childhood home and made to watch her own planet get toasted.

Do I open with this instead, then fast-forward to the adult hell-bent on revenge? But I like the original opening and I think it's the more immediately gripping.

Would it work better as a prologue, given the time lapse? But everyone hates prologues.

Or do I work it in later as a flashback? But I hate flashbacks.


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