10:11am: ... chapter five finished. After mental Cirque de Soleil.
I finished my chapter. Would have done it sooner, but I wrote myself down a blind alley and had to delete and go in a different direction. It was very interesting to think my way through it, though ... I had to describe a horror scene, and I started out writing it as if it was modern horror, you know, where you start out with innocent expendable ordinary bystanders going about their ordinary business, and then splatter 'em all. I couldn't make it work. Then I realized it didn't work because my book isn't modern horror, and I couldn't make myself imagine it that way. It felt wrong. I shifted things so that all the splattering had already happened and my small band of knights rides up afterward to a still, dead scene of horror. But with everything silent and almost frozen, like a photograph. Already happened.
Once I'd got that in place, blamm, I sat down and the rest of the chapter just rolled out. It's fascinating to think about how that works.
I think it's because of genre. In modern horror, you're mostly dealing with scenes with just a small group of characters in a small setting, which simplifies things so you can focus on the horror special effects, whatever they are. It's about the personal fates - I mean, the gory deaths - of a handful of characters. I think.
A fantasy scene, though, has a big worldbuilding-y background that always needs description, and adventure fantasy means lots of characters and battle scenes and the fate of the world at stake. Jamming that all in as well makes it impossible to focus on the horror in the same way; there's just too much that has to be described and kept track of. Also the mood is completely different. That's probably even more important.
11:34am: Two short books, one short story
It strikes me that I'm doing things right with my approach to publishing as a business. That is, last month I had a neat idea about marketing my book Sungoddess: I created an extra edition, splitting the book into two shorter books, with new (and beautiful, I have to say) covers. Matching covers, mirror images of each other. The book splits naturally in two with a cliffhanger in the middle, so it was easy. Nifty new titles, too.
I've just published them on Amazon, this morning. Also, earlier, I published a short story called Dragon, Bucket, Moon. But what's really good is that I can do it all casually, right after breakfast - and then sit back and think, "Whoa! This isn't a big thing anymore!"
It's a classic sprint-read, all story movement and nothing in the way of reading speed. (Like, details, subtext, complexity.) I skimmed through a reread over supper. No, it has no complexity. Books one-three had all the added elements that make for enjoyment in rereading, but it's still very satisfying to have reached a conclusion ... mostly it's the pleasure of seeing favorite characters find a happy ending. And that's here in spades.
4:45am: apropos of nothing
Today I have the satisfaction of my own copy of "A Memory of Light". Delivered to my door via the miracle of Amazon, twenty-odd years in the waiting ... at last, plot conclusion. Nine hundred pages of plot conclusion, with swordfights. Happiness.
4:38pm: Bizarre but great
And by "bizarre but great" I mean it's great that I won the fifty-fifty draw at work - whee! ninety-four dollars out of the blue! - but hey, it's the first time I've won anything since I was, uh, eight. When I was eight I won a lovely cake at an afternoon tea draw. How beautiful it was, with silver trimmettes all over, huge and fancy. How sad I was, eight years old, when my parents took one look at the thing and shoved it into the freezer untouched for a more appropriate occasion. I didn't even get a single bite ...
But now I've won again! How great is that? Actually at this moment I feel like buying a cake and eating a huge slice all by myself, perhaps at midnight in my jammies. Because I can. Life's sweet that way sometimes.
10:59pm: Absolutely unrelated to Thanksgiving!
I had a tooth pulled today. I'd been bracing myself for it, as who wouldn't; last night at this time I was telling myself, "Twenty-four hours and you'll be all through it, though with a sore jaw." Because nobody likes having work done at the dental surgeon's.
Anyway, my appointment was for 9 AM, and the roads were sloppy and snowy, so despite leaving an hour early for a half-hour drive across Calgary, I only got there about ten to 9, bearing with me the obligatory New Book To Read While Local Freezing takes hold (this is obligatory) - Lois Bujold's latest, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which I'd been looking forward to for, oh, three months. This dental surgeon is a breezy casual guy; during my preliminary checkup with him last month he glanced at my x-ray, said, "Oh, no problem, do you want me to do it right now? I can take it out right now if you like, say the word," and when I said, "Uh, no, I have work tomorrow," he just shrugged in unconcern. Reassuringly casual.
Today the nurse gave me antibiotics and had me lie down on a table, and the dental surgeon strode in, gave me a shot of local freezing, and then another shot, and a third. I was mourning for my book, out of reach across the room. The nurse had taken off my glasses, too. A split second passed. The surgeon asked if I could feel my jaw. He put pressure on my tooth, and then again. No pain. He said, "Okay, I'm going to waggle the tooth," and did so, and then again, a little harder, and then said, "Here, once more, a little harder again," and I heard three distinct tiny cracking noises. "There you go!" he said. "Finished."
The nurse rinsed my mouth and gave me a gauze pad to bite down on, and a little bag of extra pads, to keep biting on until the bleeding stopped. There was barely any bleeding. And NO PAIN.
I talked to the nurse about rinsing with salt water and painkillers and other routine things, thanked her and walked out into the waiting room, finished and ready to go. It was seven after nine.
The whole procedure had taken seven minutes by the waiting-room clock, and - I can't repeat this enough - NO PAIN. I love this. Who wouldn't? I've taken it easy all day, but the freezing wore off hours ago and the bleeding's stopped, and the spot is a little swollen but that's all, and I have a whole jar of Tylenol 4 painkiller I don't need, because nothing even hurts. I feel fine.
Also I just finished the Bujold book, and it's great. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants light Regency romance transposed into the key of Space Opera. Next up: Malcolm Gladwell's nonfiction book The Tipping Point.
11:52am: Snow in Calgary
Winter weather arrived here yesterday; it snowed lightly all day, and now the view out of the window is stereotypical winter whiteness. White sky, white lawns, white rooftops and trees full of snow. It's not all that cold, and the streets are perfectly clear and dry today, but still: all white. Maybe a hundred minor accidents on the city streets, par for the course.
I put that down to people who've moved here from warmer climates over the course of the past year, out driving in mucky sleet for the first time. There must be at least a couple of hundred of those. Either that, or sheer carelessness, I suppose.
I have a week's holiday, so I don't have to drive if I don't want to.
Last week on my day off I went to an orchid greenhouse that happens to be on Signal Hill; I found out about it earlier this year. It's quite big and I never knew about it, and is in the process of closing its doors and moving to Vancouver Island. I'd been there a couple of times a few months ago and bought several orchids, because it turns out this house is a good one for orchids. They grow well here, and I can coax them into bloom. So I have some orchids, and they really look healthy and are growing nicely for me, and now I have even more because the orchid greenhouse is having a close-out sale. Wild impulse-buying time for me. It's great! These are smallish plants, and one is in bloom, and its name is Miltassia Dark Star "Darth Vader".
It's got big velvet-purple flowers, star-shaped, very pointy. I've been taking pictures of my orchids as they come into bloom, with my new phone. The next thing is to figure out how to download the photos into my PC. Eventually I can spam the world with flower jpgs.
9:36pm: Somewhat about books that are dogs
Caesar the Wonder Dog got his claws clipped. I mean, was subjected to the dreadful trauma of claw-clipping. I took him to a tiny dog-grooming business down by the Dairy Queen (I hadn't been there before) and it was great (except maybe from Caesar's viewpoint) - I picked him up and handed him to one of the girls who does the grooming, and she turned around and held him up for one of the other girls to clip. Clip clip clip and it was done. There were heart-rending squeals and wiggles, but that happens any time anyone tries to touch Caesar's claws, and it was very quick.
He's a total wimp.
I've been reading the later Dune books. There's about twelve of them now, and I checked them all out of the library but couldn't make myself go on reading them after about four. They're pretty bad. I could kick Frank Herbert's son whosis, and I could punch Kevin Anderson his cohort-in-writing ... they should never have continued the series. Never, never. Owww.
Yeah, those books are dogs.
Herbert and Anderson have an amazing ability to take what originally was important and epic, and make it small and petty. Alas. I guess that's mostly what I don't like about the books. They aren't epic. The characters are petty. Also, and this is the real pity, Frank Herbert's mastery of dialogue and setting within scene would make any lesser writer look bad. He was almost as good as Dorothy Dunnett, and that's the highest praise I know.
8:59pm: Oooh, self-indulgence
The problem with cooking experiments is that you have to eat them afterward, and in the case of chocolate souffle, you have to eat the whole thing because I hear it doesn't keep in the refrigerator. Next time I'm making a half-recipe. Chocolate souffle and fresh-baked fruit bread ... yum, but thank goodness I have a cast-iron digestion, that's all I can say.
Whoever has good material for a story is grieved if the tale is not well told. Hear, my lords, the words of Marie, who in her own time does not squander her talents. --Marie de France, prologue to Guigemar
Matiere et san li done et livre La contesse et il s'antremet De panser, que gueres n'i met Fors sa painne et s'attancion.
The countess provides him with matter and meaning, whereas he undertakes to think, for he brings to the task nothing more than his effort and intention. --Chretien de Troyes, Charrette (The Knight in the Cart)
8:37pm: Young Sasquatches in Love
Another short story published, and this time it was an effortless formatting job, which is a relief after the 50 Ways to Blunder Calibre (TM) dance which was getting Sungoddess ready for Amazon. Those seemingly endless blunders and bloopers were due to tiredness; they were that kind of mistake.
This story, Young Sasquatches in Love, here at Smashwords and here at Amazon, is light romantic comedy. Very light! Set in a world where supernatural creatures are running all over the place, protected by uptight government conservation-group schoolmarms whose grip of regulation and fine is, well, unrelenting. All Pete wants is a romantic getaway with his wife Joy, but what he gets is a sasquatch dubbed Goldilocks.
9:05am: Good reading!
I'm reading a Dutch children's fantasy author, Leonie Kooiker.
She wrote a couple of books whose titles in English translation are The Magic Stone and Legacy of Magic. So far, I've only read the second - it's about a boy named Chris who lives in the woods learning magic from a crotchety witch named Janna, who belongs to something called the 'fine thread association' whose members communicate by sending each other pieces of crochet. It's charming. This book has stuck in my head for, oh, years, even though I'd forgotten the author's name and even the title. Last week I went hunting and found it on Amazon, and ordered it and the earlier book. Yes. The internet rules.
Yesterday Legacy of Magic arrived, and I picked it up and opened it for a moment, intending to leave it at home and go off to work instead with Arthurian mythology in the French canon instead. That's what I'd planned. But noooh, I read about two pages of the Kooiker, tucked it under my arm and abandoned Arthur and Lancelot.
There are very few children's writers who can do fantasy full of magic delight (as opposed to full of magical events) but everything that happens in this book is delightful - written in a kind of evening silver light of enchantment. Chris is forbidden by his association to use his magic stone for a year (to prove his self-control) so he doesn't. He runs around and explores with a friend named Alex, and there's a mystery about a lost coin collection, and things happen, this and that. A spell is cast, and cast again. Janna's upset with Chris and decides to kill him. Nothing's explained, it just happens. It all adds up to the evening silver light, which is really a matter of pure mood.
Kooiker reads like Margaret Storey, which is just about the highest praise I know for children's fantasy.
I'm really looking forward to getting The Magic Stone and reading that too at last.
Five prairie lilies now in bloom, thanks to the neat lady at the farmer's market who has been growing wildflowers for sale for, oh, at least ten years now. Last year, at last, she turned up with young lilies, and I scooped the lot. Now I have the pleasant task of fine-tuning the wildflower bed so the lilies have good groundcover around them - miniature wild buttercups, wild clover, miniature cranesbills, blue-eyed grass, shooting stars - and won't be elbowed out by the wild columbine, which have shot up crazy happy and are blooming two feet tall.
Eventually I will have red wild mallow in that bed. I swear it. They're gorgeous: brick-orange groundcover flower, with soft grey desert-zone foliage. I have only seen them in actual bloom once, but I adore them. If only I could get the dumb seed to germinate ...
No sooner had I finished my last day of spring planting for this year (five rose bushes, one tree peony) than the skies went lead-grey with cloud, and opened up, and poured. Rain falling in gushers. It's just what I most wanted.
My front yard is a south-facing slope, now adorned with a rose garden and a wildflower bed. It looks reasonable but disorderly. It's almost time to start moving things around and making it harmonious.
The tree peony is a Japanese Kinkaku, a reckless purchase in Calgary's climate, but I just looked it up online and it turns out to be perfectly well rated for Zone 4, so there. If it's happy it'll grow six feet tall and have enormous dinner-plate yellow-and-peach ruffled confections of flowers.
If I hadn't bought it, that image would have haunted me all year.
Now I'm watching the quite ridiculous movie Megapiranha.
5:24pm: Pixar's 22 rules of storytelling
From io9: rules of storytelling as per a Pixar genius. I'm saying genius because the Pixar people are, well, storytelling genii. Every one might as well as have popped out of a lamp - look at what they've done!
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Anyone would say so if they watched me set out confidently to drive to the T&T Chinese market for mushrooms and whatnot; and then I got lost. I turned one intersection too soon and, amazed, found myself driving down a totally unfamiliar Road to Nowhere. This happens to me all too often, but I'm learning to cope.
However I'm an idiot who had a city mapbook in the car, and soon found my way back on track. And then there was dim sum! Not indiotic at all.
Also, I may be idiotic on the roads but here at home I have a Vuvkstereara Cambria Plush orchid in full bloom, red and white with yellow falls, and it's gorgeous. I've got a Miltonia in bloom too but its markings look bold and showy next to the delicacy of the Vuvkstereara. They're both beautiful but it's like a child's drawing in felt pen next to good draftsmanship in chalks: Miltonia vs Cambria Plush.
Also, I may be idiotic (and besotted with orchids) but I've just read The Magician King. It's great! I loved The Magicians, but there's an obvious reason why it's shelved in literary fiction rather than in the fantasy section. It is firmly in the literary tradition, being about an ordinary man's flaws and failings (though true, against a wonderful pseudo-Rowling-and-C.-S.-Lewis mashup romp of a setting with side mentions of Tolkein, and who wouldn't love that?) - but an absolutely great book, one that makes its point with crystal clarity. However, its point is that if you're going to be neurotic, then even going to Hogwarts and discovering the door to Narnia won't help, and that's firmly in the literary tradition.
The Magician King is pretty firmly in the fantasy tradition, though. Its point is quite different ... well, perhaps because it has no such definite point as The Magicians. If you read The Magicians and loved it as literary fiction, you'd be disappointed in its sequel. But if you loved the fantasy dress-up in The Magicians, you'll adore the sequel because it is adventure in the same setting, with the universe's magic at stake. Anyway. I adored it as such. It even has a happy ending, with room for a third book to come, and if there is one I'm going to go crazy and buy it the moment it comes out.
This latest review comes from Elizabeth Hull - thank you, Elizabeth! It's here at Smashwords
She says: The lyrical beauty created in this world is outstanding. Add to that a group of well-drawn characters, a plot that is totally different from anything written before and you have a fantastic read.
The characters aren't drawn as perfect people. They are flawed and they must grow as the story progresses, as it does to a startling and satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.
How wow is now (which could be a webpage title, come to think of it.) Howwowisnow.com
7:41pm: Aaaaaand another five-star review
... for Let the Dragon Wake. This is the first one to be featured on somebody's own website. It's here, at Stewartry, a website full of book reviews and joyous fun stuff. Buffy the Vampire Slayer comix covers! Snide Doctor Who in-jokes! How could I not being reviewed on a gorgeous site like this?
And again, it is a good review, five stars and great lines: "It's beautiful and unexpected and harsh and sweet. It's a gem." It's a great review like a gift from out of the blue.
7:13pm: Freeware downloadable word cloud generator! Woot!
I just went here,Mosaizer, and downloaded a toy: a tweakable word cloud generator. You can shape your word clouds with a mask, and play with the fonts and colors. There's a gallery. I have a vague idea of decorating my webpage with wordcloud art; it might not work out, but if it does, it'll make a great background. In any case, new toys are always fun. Let's see what fun I can have with this.
After a few more days of dull formatting (because complying with the Smashwords Style requirements meaning fiddlywork) I have Sungoddess up for sale at Smashwords, here.
This is a nice big book, historical fantasy romance. It's the story of the Amazons - not the hackneyed version (hot male meets Amazons, xxx ensues) which was only ever done well by Mary Renault - but the more interesting part of the story ... which is to say, what happened to their men? And I don't think I've ever read that one except by Herodotus. And he wrote his version long enough ago that it doesn't count.
Anahita, living goddess of the Mazans, longs to be ordinary again - just another archer among the warlike men and women of her tribe. But magic wakes in her, like a sword she can’t fling away. She can’t go back to a simpler life. Her people are homeless – wanderers across the map, searching for a new homeland – and all strangers are enemies. She must rule, and protect her people.
Kesar, god-king of rich, hidden Tisu, can hear the future. Strange silvery voices chant in his head, a chorus of warnings and promises that no one else can hear. This magic makes him king.
The voices warn Kesar of invasion by the Mazans, who his people call Amazons. To save his kingdom, he must let himself be taken prisoner, pretend to be a slave, and steal the treasure of the Mazans: their peerless horses, and their god-queen. Anahita.
Disaster follows. After their men die, the women of the Amazons come for vengeance.
Anyway, anyone reading this journal deserves a gift, so if you want to follow the book's link and use coupon code UC66M - and please do! it would make my day - you can download the book, free.