Thursday, December 31, 2009
End of year wrap up
I thought Iíd do a quick year in review and prospectus for the future as the old year comes to a close. (For the next scene
from Qiri's world, you have to wait for the next year/decade).
31 dec 09 @ 10:21 pm
My biggest writing accomplishment for the year was the completion of Cerelian Gold. Considering the rough notes I started
with, its' probably the fast I've ever gone through a book, writing, and revising. What's more, it's the second a a two book
set, for which the first book is not even done yet. Very unusual for me. For good or ill, it's partly possible because it
is very light on the science fiction, more heavy on the personal interaction and all. It's also heavy on one of the things
I like to write (though I donít know why): a strong character on the verge of madness (in this case a character whose been
certifiable and remembering something of how she got back so they can hang on in the face of new horrors). It's barely science
fiction, which I myself donít often like, but decidedly space fiction and with scenarios I could find no circumstances on
Earth to allow me to make it contemporary fiction, so science fiction it remains.
I continue to work on revising Qiri and hope you like the results in the new year. I plan to do two or three books (all drafted,
all in need of massive revision and additions, which is why Iím not sure whether it will be two books or three on completion.
In addition and unlike my fantasy, it includes spaces in the plot sequence that will allow the addition of interim stories,
even novels. (If any writers find the characters and scenarios intriguing enough, I wouldn't mind trying a joint effort regarding
future novels set in the same universe). Feedback and suggestions also always appreciated...
The challenges of travel have been my bane, and the events over the holidays have only served to convince me that the violation
of our rights in the airport security system are not worth the failure to achieve meaningful added safety. Trains are the
way to go, and Iím fortunate to have done most of the overseas trips Iíve dreamed of already. Most of the next places I want
to go, i can reach by car or train, or use one of those to go by ship.
Iíve blogged, done book reviews, wandered the net. Discussions of what Avatar is and isnít (I have yet to see it) have made
me wonder about Second Life, one of the few "big online things" (that have made CSI NY) that isnít facebook-like.
nor touched the lives of my coworkers. Facebook, Twitter, direct ďcommunications" as they mistakenly call it, yes, Second
Life, no. It seems like something a SF person (reader, writer, anything) just has to at least be aware of it and explore
some of its possibilities. Call it one of my New Yearís resolutions to at least pay a visit and see if my computer is compatible.
The other resolution Iíve made is to put one snetence per day in a tiny little mini book I bought to capture some essence
of the day, some lesson learned, something that seemed important at the end of the day. I did it for a poetry class once.
It is an interesting exercise and enlightening to look back on, as well as practice for twittering, I suppose. Distilling
important thoughts to brief entries instead of paragraphs and pages.
Not that Twitter seems to be about important messages in my limited exposure. The most popular seem to be comic one-liners.
In toto, they might say something of life and society, as all good humor does, but Iíd still rather get a letter of substance.
Faster is not better, and i don't think that's a statement unique to my generation, in the same sense that more is not necessarily
better, else we wouldn't have phrases like "information overload" in the modern vocabulary.
All in all, a wild ride that we seem to have survived, family, finances, life, and work. Next year... I canít say it's looking
better (though the gridlock at the mall on Tuesday suggests that the economy is at least leveing out) but I dare say weíll
survive what it has to throw at us, too.
Happy New Year! Resolve to write more!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
its all about the next meal
In Qiri's world, too, and food is part of the theme in the scene's I've posted to the Space Exploration page.
29 dec 09 @ 8:29 pm
In my view, I like stories where people eat and sleep (private necessities can remain private) and deal with other factors
of real life in various ways. Sometimes they effort to get those necessesities can be a plot element, but more often they
are the setting, getting ready for bed (not usually in Dragon's sense), meal time. Even in the digital world, meals are a
common family event and an important time to catch up on news. Their nature tells uch about the characters involved, their
situation, and changes in their situation.
Writer's challenge: Check whether your characters have been given a chance to eat. If not, consider their reaction: asking
for a chance? Hungry? Weakening from lack of food for awhile, dealing with foul food they aren't used to?
It's always all about the next meal over the holidays, especially, in our house. And food always seems to be an added adventure
over the holidays, with some plan s going awry, others working out for the better, often both at once. We planned on turkey
and made ham rather than waiting for the slower-than-expected thaw. Everyone has their favorite dishes but fridge and freezer
space discourage making much more than we can eat (leftovers need space, too) so we spread the favorites over several meals
(and still end up with leftovers).
Our favorites include candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes (plain, boxed, with no added flavors, increasingly hard to find),
baked potatoes (you see where having all in the same meal can be a problem) beans with almonds, homemade stuffing (we don't
call it dressing-- that's the semi-liquid stuff you pour on salad) with fruit and nuts, cranberries in every form, pickled
herring, pumpkin pie (various recipis), pecan pie, cherry pie (we skipped the pecan so far but maybe New Year's..) and of
course an endless supplies of cheeses, cookies, relishes, bread rolls.
If you want any of the recipis, let me know.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Holidays and underworld scenes
No, not both together, but a few comments on each and on other stuff.
26 dec 09 @ 7:50 pm
As hoped, the holidays (time off work) gave me some writing time and holidays (family visiting and other chaos) kept my mind
busy so I had no lack to write, For my readers here, it means more of Qiri is now ready for prime time so I can keep charging
ahead at speed without some of the hesitation and last minute editing that may or may not have been obvious the last month
Todays's new scene has been polished (rewritten nearly from scratch, relocated, resequenced, you name it, I tried it) several
times. It definately does not constitute writing what i know. It is drawn from several discussions, a short story I wrote
from an almost opposite take on the ident cards (in the short story, the card system prevented anyone from disappearing so
thoroughly that the system created an official option for getting a new card and new ident, no questions asked, one time only,
for sanity's sake, though those who partook tended toward paranoid thereafter), and lots of book and movie exposure to fictional
crime and spy underworlds. I aimed for what would give the flavor of illegal dealings, and what logic I could muster to hint
at futuristic banking, ident systems, and how to deal with ships that might have a variety of alien pilots over time.
Does not having city and planets names leave an obvious gap? Normally I have one, but it didn't seem appropriate or needed
here, at least not yet, so I didn't provide either.
And just an aside, came across an article pointing out that rail ridership has been up recently, as if that was a surprise
and that the reason was unclear. Let's see, harassment at the airports, too few, overbooked flights so that if your flight
gets cancelled due to weather, it might be three days before you can get where you're going, airlines handling delays as if
they'd never done it before... take your pick. Recent events... only proof that the harassment isn't worth the bother.
Life includes dangers, and crossing the street or driving on the same road as a drunk driver still way more dangerous than
flying, but we do both without a second thought.
Monday, December 21, 2009
John Berger, the Shape of a Pocket cont.
John Berger starts The Shape of a Pocket with what is, in essence, a journal entry, albeit one in which the writer is conscious
of a reader with whom he can have something of a dialog, appropriate given the heavy emphasis on that interaction in his essays
21 dec 09 @ 7:28 pm
Not immediately into it, not sure what to expect, the first several pages of the book bear more of my notes and observations
than later. I wrote a few notes on the writing: a turn of phrase that prevented a dangling participle without being overtly
awkward; the "I" point of view that I had not encountered in my initial browsing, the shift away from journaling
to what I was looking for: essays about something other than the horrors and challenges of the life of the author that so
many so-called essays are filled with these days, as if there was nothing better to write about. In actuallity, his initial
essay was really not about the several topics he brings up in quick succession--old film and the impact of film speed on video
art and the audience, fantasy creatures and subconscious awareness of the life between viewable frames, dogs and their senses,
all in a span of a page--but rather what must be an abstract artist, described with an abstract text. Yet it was full of
images and information on those other topics, presented concisely and full of imagery and ideas.
His next essay starts with a paragraph that makes the Lord's Prayer seem like a visual and visible entity with many visual
metaphors. Thereafter, Ihave several comments about timely references that made me aware before I found a date that the
book was written at the tale end of the 20th C rather than in the 21st C: references to internet capabilities as if they were
still brand new; a description of disembodied virtual life that made me think of nothing so much as Max Headrom; and references
to the virtual world that seemed a shade behind, already. My guess was confirmed in a later essay by a reference to the nature
of the second half of our current century that was not a prediction of the future!
Despite the time-dependent elements, all the concepts are still too true: He points out especially that the emphasis on the
virtual world tends to make the whole world seem artificial, lacking genuine necessity, and thus true substance.
"Necessity produces both tragedy and comedy. It is what you kiss or bang your head against. Today in the system's spectacle,
it exists mo more. Consequently no experience is communicated. All that is left to share is the spectacle."
Berger also points out, and I see it as applying to written words as well as the visual arts of which he speaks, that art
is the attempt to make fleeting moments permanent by capturing their essence, especially the relationships of elements to
that moment, for example in cave paintings, he says, "We do know that painting was used to confirm a magical 'companionship'
between prey and hunter... between the existent and human ingenuity," likening it to the encounter between painter and
model in the most perfect and complete forms of that relationship, reaching the state of collaboration, instead of mere copying
from a distance, accepting the bravery of getting to the core of another person as if it were as challenging as facing a charging
moose on the hunt, as it is for many of us!
I also see the writing arts in his definition of achieving "likeness": "When a person dies, they leave behind,
for those who knew them, an emptiness. a space: the space has contours and is different for each person mourned. This space
with its contours is the person's likeness and is what the artis searches for when making a living portrait. A likeness is
something left behind invisibly."
As I see it for fiction writers: if we could figure out what that space would be between our fictional characters, we would
have characters that fully came to life for our readers. His discussion of portraits being more than the face could be a discussion
of voice in writing, the person, the place, all captured not just by the material of the descriptions but the way they are
described through the voice of the story, capturing the intangible elements of each.
Writer's Challenge: Take a side character out of a story or scene and see how the story changes. (If it doesn't, you can
probably drop the character). Alternately, take a character and describe him or her from the point of view of each of the
other characters they interact with. How would the other characters react to that one's departure or death?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Book review -- John Berger, the Shape of a Pocket
I picked the book up on my recent trip. itís not SF, but it sounded like it might have some good non-fiction essays and it
did, some of them pertaining to writing in general, in a way, so I thought I would comment on it here. It wasn't quite what
I expected, and some of what I read was more me reading into it than the author speaking, but the fact that I could read into
it, especially that I could get valuable lessons out of what was not intended for my interest areas, is a sign of how well
it was written. It also makes it a valuable and interesting introduction to art appreciation, which seems more to be its
18 dec 09 @ 9:39 pm
John Berger's blurb for his own book:
The pocket in questionis a small pocket of resistance. A pocket is formed when two or more people come together in agreement.
The resistance is against the inhumanity of the New World Economic Order. the people coming together are the reader, me,
and those the essays are about--Rembrandt, Paleolithic cave painters, a Romanian peasant, ancient Egyptians, an expert in
the loneliness of a certain hotel bedroom, dogs at dusk, a man in a radio station. And unexpectedly, our exchanges strengthen
each of us in our conviction that what is happening in the world today is wrong, and that what is often said about it is a
lie. I've never written a book with a greater sense of urgency.
It was not what I expected from my initial reading of the blurb and skimming a few pages for the flavor (the last thing I
wanted was a book of yet more personal essays) I have come across nothing that made me think about what's wrong with today's
world in the first three quarters of the book that I've read. I got the impression from the blurb and my skimming that it
would be a collection of essays on a broader range of topics. It was, indirectly, on that broad range, but ultimately it
remains a series of essays on art and artists, individual paintings and collections, although one in which many other lessons
and tales can be found. I should probably have expected the art focus considering it was in a gallery book store, but it
is perhaps just as well that I got a false impression because it turned out to be an excellent and delightful travel book
as well as valuable on many other levels.
The Shape of a Pocket is excellent art commentary but it is also a good lesson in writing. Like good book reviews, it is
a literary work, not just news. Especially the earlier essys, it seemed to me (though i expect it would have been true for
almost any five or six essays I chose if I had read them out of sequence) that the essays weren't so much about the specific
artwork or artist or collection as about elements of life and creativity and philosophy.
Only later, as I got into the rythm of the essays, picked out some of the authors favorite themes (he loves the everyday in
great art and seems to have studied prehistoric cave art extensively, or was at least fascinated by what he encountered),
did I settle into the essays as they were probably intended, being ultimately and more completely about the art stuff, and
to see the life lessons and other themes merely as supporting material.
Even then they reminded me of the book reviews I read studying the old Russian philosophers. Many made their living writing
book reviews, but they were book reviews the way these lovely essays are art reviews: yes, they ultimately gave readers what
they were looking for about the books they were reviewing, but they also presented content, information and ideas from other
sources, their own opinions on the issues addressed in the books in question, many tangentially related issues, and made as
much or more impact on the philosophies of the time through their so-called reviews as the authors of the books and articles
they were reviewing. It doesn't quite work the same when reviewing visual arts with verbal text; he isn't painting or sculpting
his reviews. But the author does contribute to the readers understanding and knowledge of far more than the individual works
he addresses in each essay.
Like those old philosophical book reviews, these essays form a kind of dialogue between not review author and artist but between
the author and the reader, a dialog with a shifting topic that eventually comes around to where the conversation began, as
conversations do, but also passes through many other topics along the way, including bicycles and working conditions, personal
failures and professional success, creativity, and methods of learning and developing talent and skill. Some of the art history
appeared multiple times: cave drawings were references several times before and after the essay on a particular collection
of cave art.
Some of the artists were contemporaries or nearly so. Eventually the essays all addressed ways of looking at the world and
communicating with it through our art (I saw literary composition as being no different in many respects than the arts he
addressed more specifically, requiring the same level of interaction and understanding, communication and translation between
the artist, the subject matter, and the medium through which it is in-turn presented to or communicated interactively with
Along the way, more subtlely in the begin (perhaps due to my own ignorance of art history and art appreciation), them more
clearly (either because the author was more direct or because I learned along the way and better understood what he was driving
at through the multiplicity of examples and comparisons, I learned quite a lot about art and things to look for that I would
never have noticed before.
For example, I've seen lots of Renaissance art and generally recognize it as such when I see it, but I never noticed that
one of the things that makes it distinctive is the deeply shadowed, almost camera-quality shading and details that nonetheless
leave the people in the paintings strongly disproportionate. I had noticed that, like much medieval art, the people in groupings
tended to be sized more in accordance with their importance than due to perspective, position, or other factors, but I had
been less aware that the body part of individuals were also disproportionate to each other: hands impossibly large, heads
small in relationship to clothing and bodies, and the focus of individual art works prone to exaggerate as much as relieve
the disproportion. Having been made aware of through his discourses on individual artists of the time, I immediately started
recognizing some of these elements when I came across prints, photos, or sketches of art from the same period in a recent
More to come. More about Qiri has been posted on the Space Explorations tab, too.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Bits and pieces
Patís Fantasy Hotline had a recent post directing readers to a discussion on the death of science fiction (to which I added
my own comment)
16 dec 09 @ 8:55 pm
Pats' blog: http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/
Two central posts in the discussion:
http://blog.markcnewton.com/2009/12/03/why-sf-is-dying-fantasy-fiction-is-the-future/ and http://blog.markcnewton.com/2009/12/08/why-sf-is-dying-the-follow-up-post-in-which-the-author-defends-himself/
(and check out Patís blog, too)
An observation from my trip journal on space fiction:
I saw a blog in passing that credited Star Trek with inventing the genre of space fiction. It was far from the first, but
it was perhaps the first to make it into pop culture and mainstream. Unfortunately, it was mostly the last as well, so far
as alien life is concerned. The t.v./movie industry seems little inclined to do more with alien life, save where space aliens
and horror monsters intersect. Despite the vast special effect and related advances that would allow alien creatures to come
to life, nothing like Pip and Flinx and the Flanx have made it to the screen; no alien natures have been explored in any but
token, even silly depth outside the Star Trek universe. Perhaps ir remains harder (that is, more expensive) than it seems
to create characters such as Gollem in LOR, too hard to add a good digital image to footage of real world for best effect.
In either case, the lack of willingness for film and television producers to try is likely to kill the genre in books as
well. Book publishers want the books that have a chance to go beyond paper (or electrons), for it is those that fund the
books that fail to do so. Rarely are books expected to succeed merely as books anymore, and those that are seen as landing
there are rarely published.
Until something persuades the industry, or whatever groups influence their decisions, space fiction will struggle, and possibly
other types of science fiction as well.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Skipping through life
One of several posts I thought of and drafted while I was traveling:
14 dec 09 @ 7:08 pm
Although I enjoy writing SF as much as fantasy, and especially playing with alien places and characters (I will never be as
good at it as Asimov or Foster, but I can try) I find it harder to do certain aspects of the SF writing. Science fiction
calls for less scene development, in a way, less day-to-day completeness in the character's lives, sometimes, it seems to
me, unless the story is fully focused there (the introduction and impact of robots to the household life, like in IA, for
example, or to show the change in the alien lives due to some outside force).
In fantasy--especially traditional fantasy set in pre industrial eras--the scenery, the day-to-day, the movement by foot or
horse--always more slow, or magical transfer, captured through the sudden change in scenery--the scenes along the way are
all an important element and as such can take more space in the telling. In near-future science fiction, little needs to
be pointed out of the setting because it is already all around the reader, save for the new technology that might or might
not yet be part of the scenery. In more futuristic and especially space science fiction, the scenery of travel is often moving
past at impossible speeds, barely glimpsed, with only an occasional pause in place to capture the nature and uniqueness of
And yet I will contradict myself almost immediately: I suspect I like Alan Dean Foster's SF partly because it reads almost
as much like a fantasy as a science fiction, and many characters spend a lot of time on foot or using other, relatively slow
means of transport on the ground, giving him time to develop the full nature of his worlds as well as all the alien and not
so alien characters.
Still, in a lot of science fiction, it is not the slow movement of the characters across the landscape that matter as much
as certain events or stages in development of technology and the characters' lives, and a story might quickly bypass days
or months or years, with no need to describe what lies between in any depth or scene.
In my case, at least, that adds a special challenge that i don't encounter as much when i write fantasy. How much of interim
events do I need to show, in sequence or through flashbacks and other events? I have found myself deleting scene after scene,
only to add them back again, as I sort out where is the meat of the story, what does each scene really add? Every story,
especially every novel-length story has many elements. if it were a simple plot, a few characters, a single world, it could
be a short story, and no need to lengthen for the purpose of lengthening it, but a novel has more complex plots and story
threads, more characters to develop to appropriate depth, more worlds to build. I find it a challenge to revise with all
of the different factors in mind. Yet if I revise with one thread in mind at a time, I might leave in a scene that adds to
none of them, expecting it to contribute to the next feature, or else cut a scene out only to put it back again, and again.
With Qiri, I wonder, should I have built the trial more, or leave it behind in the background? What of her parents? (It
is intended as young adult in essence, even if the character is an adult so an introduction and parting are appropriate, but
is the parting from Tavven and from her past work-life on Conclave enough? It makes her seem more young, which may help a
young adult readership connect to Qiri's plight, but I don't know if it's really needed, and I will probably take them out
and add them back again several times before I decide.
I've posted a couple of more scenes, post trial, now, editing and revising even as I post. I also have another "favorite"
to add to my favorites tab, if you're interested: Alive and Knitting.
Friday, December 11, 2009
i read parts of two non-fiction books that I will be commenting on at length, and have much to share about my observations
on train travel and people watching and related topics but it has been a day and a half of travel so I won't go on at length
11 dec 09 @ 9:54 pm
I have posted the next couple of scenes for Conclave for your pleasure. During my travels I drafted a few more new/expanded
scenes yet to come for Qiri but not as much as I expteced. I found that several of the items that I thought needed further
development didn't need a LOT more to address the issue, just a little more dialog, a rockier encounter between friends (due
to the rocky departures that I had ignored as the story went on; I always try to forgive and forget but it doesn't always
come easily and my characters need to at least either consciously make that choice or else clear up the misunderstanding before
they go on), mostly fleshing out scenes that already exist.
There are still gaps in the time line, but I think that they are gaps that don't matter; the nature and timing of the gaps
may matter, but they don't necessarily have to be filled in with more than a passing reference.
I similarly realized that some of the "adventure" can be looked at with at least the same criterion. Some adventure
is appropriate, but to add it just for the sake of adding it can be self destructive: like every scene and dialog, it must
add to the story, and if it fails to do so, I as writer have to aske whether the problem is the content of the scene, its
flow and specifics, or whether it is a scene that doesn't need to be shown. Sometimes a glance over a shoulder is enough
to make the needed point, especially to convey the nature of bad guys. That they are evil needs to be clear, but the details
of how they achieve their evil ends needs only enough to let the reader get the sense of it; the imagination is always able
to fill in enough of the rest to understand, even if what is "enough" varies greatly.
Writer's challenge: write a scene from the bad guy's point of veiw, in as much detail as you like, then take out all the
actually nasty stuff, leaving it merely implied. Have some one you know read it and tell you what happened in the scene.