May 20, 2016
I’m in that state where I have a bunch of things I ought to be reading, so of course instead I sat down and re-read Austen’s Persuasion. It’s my favorite of hers. I just finished that and am now trying out Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road, which appears to be an unabashed pastiche of late Victorian adventure novels, which is totally in my wheelhouse. Although he dedicates the book to Michael Moorcock, which also tells you where it’s coming from. There’s also a dash of Fritz Leiber in there. I’m intrigued at how Chabon built up a reputation as a wholly literary writer, but then has used that platform to unabashedly mess around with various genres and genre conventions. In the process he’s won a Pulitzer and a Hugo. Nice work if you can get it.
I’m absolutely fascinated by the current popular phenomenon of mystery boxes like Loot Crate. Everyone is talking about them. Everyone posts pictures of their goodies on FB or whatever. At Wondercon, there were at least three or four companies, including Loot Crate, selling boxes out of their booths. I totally get the attraction. It’s like Christmas and the lottery wrapped up in one. Getting things in the mail is already awesome, but getting a big surprise in the mail is even more awesome.
But I’ll tell you my problem: Right now I’m trying to get rid of things, not get more things, and most of these boxes seem to be all about things. Tchotchkies. Cool nerd stuff, but still stuff, that then ends up in boxes or as clutter. I’ve spent two years sorting out things and carting them off to the thrift store, I don’t need more. Prediction: in about 10-15 years every thrift store in the country is going to have walls full of Funko Pop figures that no one has room for anymore and that no one wants to keep.
Well, at the Creative Ink Festival I was introduced to the Novel Tea Club. This is a mystery box club where you get a book (you can pick the genre), and then some things like tea, tea infusers, candles, bath stuff, etc. All designed for a nice relaxing read-in. And — all entirely consumable. No clutter, nothing to find space for. It’s all stuff you use. And then get more of. Fantastic idea.
And today, the sun is shining, I’m out in short sleeves, and it’s magnificent. That gray weather we had all last week really got me down. But I’m better now.
May 6, 2016
That is all.
(At the conference, no time to chat. But there is always time for a cup of tea…)
April 29, 2016
It’s Friday again. And snowing again. I used to read books about Wicca and modern paganism and they’d talk about doing outdoor Beltane rituals in the nude and there I’d be in the middle of a Colorado spring snowstorm thinking are you out of your freaking minds?! Turns out a lot of those books are written by folks living in southern California.
My email today had no fewer than 4 survey requests from various companies I’ve done business with recently. I hate surveys. Hate hate hate them. And I hate that these days I can’t seem to have a single business transaction without getting one in my email a day later.
Next week, I’ll be in Vancouver for the Creative Ink Festival. That’s ink for writing, not tattooing. Apparently there has been some confusion. Come join us if you’re in the area! I have an extra day to be a tourist, since this will be my first time in Vancouver. What should I go see?
April 27, 2016
Not for real. I would never set Barry and Kara against each other because they are total BFFs. But I want to compare the season 1 finales of each show, because I think they offer a really a great lesson in tension, suspense, and how to maintain those things in fiction.
The lesson: A great way to increase tension in the story is to make sure the main character and the audience are on the same page, pointed in the same direction. A great way to destroy tension is to put the character and audience at odds.
I’ve talked before about the first season finale of The Flash: how an episode that is basically people talking the whole time had me at the edge of my seat, emotionally engaged, and brought enough tension to be nerve-wracking. I think part of how it accomplished this is by keeping Barry and the audience on the same page, asking the same question: Should he travel back in time to save his mother or not? Barry spends the whole episode on that question, and we’re right there with him until he finally pulls the trigger on the action and it all comes to a head and we all learn the answer at the same time.
Now let’s talk about that Supergirl season finale. The big action scene in the last half of the episode had an actual ticking clock, so the tension should have been thick, right? Time’s counting down, only a few minutes left to save the world, yikes! So why were my friends and I yelling at the TV and bored and frustrated? I think it’s because we weren’t on the same page as the characters. We weren’t asking the same questions, we weren’t pointed in the same direction.
The episode: Kara and Alex fight, but Love Conquers All, and Kara goes on TV to tell everyone that Hope saves the day, and Myriad is defeated, except it isn’t because Non and Co. have now set it to destroy the brains of everyone on planet Earth and Kara must dump Non’s HQ into space, which is likely a suicide mission and everyone knows it. So she goes around to tell everyone how much she loves them because she thinks she isn’t coming back, then she fights and kills Non, dumps the thing into space, Alex saves her (yay!), the end, cliffhanger.
Just like The Flash finale, this episode features a whole lot of the main character going around having heartfelt conversations with the most important people in her life. How interesting, I thought, that both these episodes are mostly the main character talking to people. Especially because I think The Flash episode succeeds massively, and the Supergirl episode, well, doesn’t.
The problem? The doomsday clock is already ticking when Supergirl goes around having her heartfelt conversations. This means all I could think about was “Holy shit why are you wasting all this time talking to people, the clock is ticking, Earth is doomed, stop stop stop go fight Non ARGH WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING.” And then she lies to James about how she really feels again, which is a whole other issue. Then she gets to crashed Fort Roz and it’s the same thing. “Don’t fight Non why are you stopping you have like three minutes left just drop him in a hole and come back for him later ARGH.” This scene that’s supposed to be super tense and exciting was just completely frustrating. Because the character’s goals did not seem to line up with where I thought her goals really should logically have been lined up. She’s wasting time, running down the clock so we can have a nail-biting finish because the plot says she’s supposed to, not because it makes sense.
Why did the Flash episode get away with all the talking? There was no ticking clock. Barry had control of the action, which wouldn’t start until he said so. Him going ahead with the action was the answer to the question we’d been pondering that whole episode, and he could talk as much as he wanted before pulling that trigger and we’d go along with him.
I find it fascinating that the episode with the literal ticking doomsday clock was dull, while the one where the characters spend the whole time talking about whether they should do the thing was so gripping.
I’ve talked about this before, regarding a book I read where the viewpoint character had a Deep Dark Secret that the reader didn’t know about. I believe this was done to increase the tension, to make the reader keep reading in order to find out what the secret is. But this doesn’t actually work, because what really happens is the reader gets so damned frustrated not knowing something that’s a key part of the viewpoint character, that instead of being drawn in, the reader is pushed away. The character has their story — keeping the secret, pursuing goals, doing their thing. And the reader is on a different vector entirely: what’s the secret? The character and reader are at odds. But if the reader just knew what the secret was, then the reader becomes invested in the character’s goal: keeping the secret. Whom can the character trust? Whom will she tell? What will happen if anyone finds out? Those questions will keep us reading much more happily than wondering what the secret is.
I would have been much happier, much more engaged with the story, if Kara had behaved at all logically, and didn’t spend pretty much half of her ticking clock scenario talking while Earth is in danger.
How to fix the pacing on that Supergirl episode: After stopping Myriad (she thinks), she can have those talks with people. “When I thought I’d lost you I felt all these things and want to tell you how much you mean to me,” etc. etc. As these conversations progress, a problem becomes apparent: they all have raging headaches, and they’re getting worse. Kara runs back to HQ, “Something’s very wrong!” Yes, and here’s what it is, we’re all about to explode unless we can get the giant ship into space or something. We have 20 minutes, but our solution might kill you. Doesn’t matter, Kara zooms out to the thing because she only has 18 minutes now. Non and Indigo are there to stop her. She doesn’t immediately confront them — all she has to do is get the thing, right? But they insist on fighting her. So it’s a two-pronged battle, of her trying to get away from them while also trying to get the thing, until she finally stops to kill Non. Clock’s still ticking. Climax and finale ensue. Ta da!
And by the way how is it that Superman is always going into space with no ill effects and for some reason it’s a really big deal whether or not Kara can go into space?
April 15, 2016
Draft Zero of the new novel is DONE. This is the draft where I’m not ready for people to read it, but it’s a complete story and if anything untoward happened to me it would be possible to get a real book out of it. It still needs some work. But it’s done!
And now I kind of just want to lay around doing nothing.
I think I’ll go watch the sky — a storm’s supposed to be moving in today. Another big spring storm, and they’re predicting a doozy. Which means it might not amount to anything. I guess we’ll find out!
March 29, 2016
I missed a few days blogging in there because. . .no excuse, really. I just missed them. I’m usually pretty good about scheduling posts ahead of time when I travel, but last week turned out to be. . .interesting. We got slammed with an honest-to-goodness spring blizzard last Wednesday. 14″ of snow fell at my location in the space of about 8 hours, and it kind of threw my whole schedule off. Instead of getting any work done, I sat at my computer obsessively refreshing my flight’s status all day long. The Denver airport actually closed for most of Wednesday, which is almost unheard of it. Good thing I was flying out Thursday, right???
So yes, I did manage to dig out of my house and catch my ON TIME flight. But I didn’t do much of anything else. Except have a fantastic time at WonderCon. Everyone was so friendly and happy, and I didn’t get exhausted and burned out, and I got to go shopping and listen to Alan Tudyk’s talk, and eat a giant brownie sundae from a food truck. . .and. . . Yes. Good weekend.
I haven’t yet seen BvS, so no review yet. I’m hoping to get to it this week. I’m so fascinated with the huge variety of responses, I’m quite looking forward to seeing it for myself. From an academic standpoint, of course.
And I can’t help but think it was not at all a coincidence that the same weekend we get Batman and Superman duking it out on the big screen, TV gives us its own team-up between the two happiest, sunniest superheroes of them all: Supergirl and Flash. OMG you guys it was everything I wanted it to be. An hour of happy, happy tears. And the hugs. So many hugs. And ice cream! Hugs and ice cream FTW.
I do not believe that Batman v. Superman will have any hugs. Or ice cream.
March 16, 2016
I have a brand-spanking new story for you to read.
“That Game We Played During the War” is now live on Tor.com. Go forth and read! I hope you like it.
This story will always be special to me and here’s why: So, I’ve been in various critique groups and writing workshops for over twenty years. I joined a local in-person one in 1995, stayed with them a couple of years, went to Odyssey which was 6 weeks of in-depth critiquing, did some online workshops for a few years, had a really slam-bang telephone/conference call critique group from about 2001 to 2007, and since then, every year or so I go to a one-off professional workshop where, again, in-depth critiquing.
Every so often a story comes through the group where no one has any suggestions for improvement. All the comments are some variation of “This is fine, send it out right now.” Maybe one or two dissensions, but the story is universally praised as being fine just the way it is, and trying to change anything would ruin it. This kind of a critique is rare and deeply sought after. Mainly because we all wish all our stories would be deemed perfect as is, but that’s rarely the case.
One of my goals has been to someday write a story that gets that kind of critique at a workshop. Get the perfect, “This is great the way it is” comments.
“That Game We Played During the War” is the story that finally did it when I took it to Rio Hondo last year. Good job, little story!
(This isn’t to say I didn’t make any changes. There were a couple points of confusion and a couple places where I massaged things to make it cleaner and smoother. But mostly, I tried not to mess up what everyone had responded to so enthusiastically. And that — not messing up what’s good about a story — is as important to learn as how to fix the problems.)