Autumn’s advent

Larch Forest fwp.mt.gov

Larch Forest fwp.mt.gov

I love the changing of the seasons. In the native northwest forests, the colors of the big-leaf maples,  and alders paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold, dotted with pops of red sumac and scarlet vine-maples. The gold of the larches in the high-country is startling to those who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. I am awed by the majesty of the autumn forest.

The sky is also changing. The days grow shorter and the rains of the monsoon months approach.

The gray overcast tends to linger unending, eternal.  I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. And just as I am feeling desperately sorry for myself  the clouds part to reveal a patch of blue so beautiful my eyes hurt, and I must wear my sunglasses to shield my weak, northwesterner’s eyes.

Irene, who is from Texas, mocks me for needing protection from the rare occurrences of sun–but we who have grown up in the long dark winters have little tolerance for it; thus the cheap sunglasses become so much more than a fashion statement.

These are the writing months, the mad dash to finish that first draft, and the build up to NaNoWriMo. These are the days when inspiration knocks me in the head and takes me far, far away. These are the days when I dive into reading for pleasure and forget to cook dinner.

Autumn glory lingers for a brief few weeks, then the rain moves in and turns unraked leaves to soggy, moldy  messes waiting for the winds of November to set them free–free to fly from yard to yard as my mind soars in other realms.

But evening and morning still bring colors as the sun turns the clouds every shade of angry that is possible–gold, red, purple and even black–occasionally juxtaposed against that poignant shade of blue that makes my heart ache, and my eyes sting with tears unshed.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Romance, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

The Castle of Otranto, Northanger Abbey, and The Mysteries of Udolpho

the-castle-of-otranto-a-gothic-storyThe  late nineteenth century was a great era in which the seeds of the genre of fantasy were planted, a time when books chronicling magic, mayhem, and dark mysteries found fertile soil in the imaginations of thousands of educated, book-hungry middle-class men and women. This was the emergence of the Gothic Novel.

Gothic novels have common themes consisting of incidents of physical and psychological terror, remote, crumbling castles, seemingly supernatural events, a brooding, scheming villain, and (most importantly) a persecuted heroine.

The Castle of Otranto is a novel written in 1764 by Horace Walpole. Many consider it to be the first gothic novel, the beginnings of the literary genre that would spawn the likes of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier.  Walpole chronicles the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding-day of his sickly son Conrad and princess Isabella. Just before the wedding, however, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet (!) that falls on him from above. This strange, unexplained event is particularly ominous in light of an ancient prophecy “that the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” This sets into motion terrible events.

It also suggests that decking your halls with heavy armor may not be a good idea, for all you medieval Martha Stewart(s) out there.

So anyway–Manfred decides the only way for him to avoid destruction is to marry Isabella himself, but first he must divorce his current wife. Isabella runs away, aided by a peasant named Theodore. ” It’s all very melodramatic and exciting, with Isabella hiding in caves, and the fortuitous appearance of mysterious knights, and dark curses.  Theodore is revealed to be the true prince of Otranto and Manfred’s daughter, Matilda, dies, leaving Manfred to repent. Theodore becomes king and eventually marries Isabella “because she is the only one who can understand his true sorrow.”

Even Jane Austen loved Gothic novels.

NorthangerAbbeyNorthanger Abbey  was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, written circa 1798–99. It was originally written as a send-up of the gothic novel, the Mysteries of Udolpho. She died in 1817 and her book was posthumously published.

The book details the adventures of seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland. She is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she has read so many Gothic novels that she considers herself to be in training to be a heroine. Catherine reads voraciously, and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho is a favorite.

She meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney and after a bit of drama, is invited to visit at his family’s home. Catherine, because of her love affair with Gothic novels, expects the abbey to be exotic and frightening. Sadly, it turns out that Northanger Abbey is a pleasant home and decidedly not Gothic. However, (cue the dramatic music) the house includes a mysterious suite of rooms that no one ever enters. Catherine learns that they were Mrs Tilney’s, who died nine years earlier. Catherine decides that, since General Tilney does not now seem to be affected by the loss of his wife, he may have murdered her or even imprisoned her in her chamber.

I LOVED this novel when I read it while in college in Bellingham, Washington in the 1970s. I wore out three hard-bound copies of it!

mysteries-of-udolpho-coverSo what inspired Jane Austen to write a Gothic novel? It was her own love of a work written an Englishwoman who, in turn, was inspired by the Gothic work of Horace Walpole.  The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, was published in four volumes on May 8, 1794. Walpole began the genre, but Radcliffe made it popular.

Set in the year 1584 in southern France and northern Italy, the novel details the plight of Emily St. Aubert, a young French woman. Her mother is dead, and while journeying with her father, she meets Valancourt, a handsome man who also feels an almost mystical kinship with the natural world. Emily and Valancourt quickly fall in love. After the death of her father she is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Cheron. Emily suffers imprisonment in the castle Udolpho at the hands of Signor Montoni, an Italian brigand who has married her aunt. Emily’s romance with the dashing Valancourt is frustrated by Montoni and others. Emily also investigates the mysterious relationship between her father and the Marchioness de Villeroi, and its connection to the castle at Udolpho.

Radcliffe’s fiction is characterized by apparently supernatural events that are then provided with rational explanations. She was a forward-thinking woman, as was Jane Austen, in that in all Radcliffe’s works traditional moral values are reinforced, the rights of women are strongly advocated, and reason always prevails. Sir Walter Scott was quoted as saying, in regard to Ann Radcliffe’s work, “Her prose was poetry and her poetry was prose. She was, indeed, a prose poet, in both the best and the worst senses of the phrase. The romantic landscape, the background, is the best thing in all her books; the characters are two-dimensional, the plots far-fetched and improbable, with elaboration of means and futility of result.”

Old Restored booksThe roots of our modern fascination with all things dark and mysterious goes back to the first stories told by our tribal ancestors, under the stars around campfires. Every tribe (and in later millennia, every family) had a storyteller who wove tales of darkness, of good triumphing over evil, of sin and redemption. When written languages were invented, the upper classes in early societies had literature written for them by the likes of Homer and Li Fang .

In western societies, the renaissance began the great lust for books. With the advent of the printing press and the emergence of an affluent, educated middle-class, reading novels became a popular way to while away one’s well-earned leisure hours in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon. This habit survived, despite frequent, intense puritanical censure of such frivolity.

It is because of those nineteenth century pioneers of early popular literature that we modern readers have such a wide variety of work to entertain us. Kindles and other ebook-readers show up among the patrons of every coffee shop and in every airport-lounge and every doctor’s waiting room.

Much may have changed how we take delivery of that content–few books arrive at my house with thick paper and leather bindings nowadays, but nothing has changed in the desire to just quietly enjoy a good story when one has a little downtime.

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Battles, blogging, Books, Fantasy, History, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, WordPress, writer

But let’s talk about books for a while

I noticed something this weekend–I’m obsessed with books.  No, it’s true! Apparently, and I have to agree, it’s all I can think of to discuss. Not only that, but my friends are all obsessed with what they are reading, too.

What a surprise!

So what have I read lately that really rings my bells? Several things, actually, in a wide range of genres.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day Tad WilliamsI just finished the third book in Tad Williams’s Bobby Dollar series, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. Wow, my favorite bad angel, Bobby Dollar, finally gets a break. I love the twists and turns of William’s prose, as his hard-boiled angel gets down to the dirty business of cleaning up the mean streets of Heaven. He uses ordinary words in an extraordinary way, but never commits the sin of dropping the reader out of the story.  THIS is why I read his work.  I highly recommend this book to all those who like a bit of a hardboiled-detective twist to their paranormal fantasy. It is a smart, well-crafted journey into the human condition, set in an environment guaranteed to keep things interesting, and peopled with unforgettable characters. I gave it 5 full stars on my book review blog, Best in Fantasy.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollI also read Better You Go Home, by Seattle area author, Scott Driscoll.  This is not fantasy, it is literary fiction and a medical thriller. Chico Lenoch is an intriguing character. The tale is told in the first person, which I usually find difficult to get into as a reader, but didn’t in this case. Also something I usually find off-putting but didn’t in this case is the way Chico occasionally ‘breaks the fourth wall’–he sometimes addresses the reader directly. It works, because you are in his head the whole time and it feels perfectly natural. Driscoll is a professor at the University of Washington, and is work is both literate and intriguing. This is not genre fiction, instead it is written for mature, dedicated readers who want substance in a book. No fluff here, just good solid craftsmanship. I also gave it five full stars in my review.  But let’s be real–I don’t go to all the trouble of reviewing books I don’t love.

Doublesight--Terry PersunThen, in July I read a fantasy by another local author, Terry Persun: Doublesight. This was the most intriguing twist on the old shapeshifter theme I had ever read. Wholly human or wholly crow depending on what form she is in, Zimp is a great character, both endearing and aggravating. At first, she is weak and allows a less qualified, but more aggressive clan member, Arren, to make decisions for her. This book is as much about personalities and the need to remember their own commonality as it is about the great evil that threatens their kind. Each individual is sharply drawn, and has presence, struggling for their own place in their society while their world faces calamity. Zimp and Lankor, who is a doublesight dragon,  struggle to do what they know is right, in the face of treachery and occasional bad judgement.

The MArtian Andy WeirMy mind is still blown by The Martian, by Andy Weir. This is hardcore science fiction and may well be the best book I read all year. Mark Watney is hilarious. He is the sort of man who gets through life by finding something positive in every disaster, and mocking the hell out of everything that is negative. A horrendous storm destroys much of their base, and his team is forced to abort their mission.  During the emergency evacuation of the Ares 3 landing site, he is severely injured in an accident that appears to have killed him. His body is unretrievable, and unaware that he is still alive, he is left behind. His companions begin the long journey back to Earth, grief-stricken at his sudden death. However, Mark is that rare breed of human, an astronaut, so of course he is extremely resourceful. He does what he has to in order to survive his injuries, and then figures out exactly what he must do to stay alive until the next mission.

I definitely read a mix of self-published and indie authors, but I like authors who take chances with their work, and who eschew the hamster wheel to hell of the Big Six publishing giants, who mindlessly chug out sequel after boring sequel. Tad Williams writes like an indie, rebellious and defiant. Scott Driscoll is also ‘a bit out there’ in the approach he takes in writing Chico’s story.

I love my job!

 

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Battles, Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, WordPress, writer, writing

What language are we speaking today? Understanding Stephen Swartz

Swartz_After Ilium_FrontCvr_200dpi_3inOne of my dearest friends is author Stephen Swartz, a true renaissance man. A professor of English and a linguist, Stephen’s work frequently involves foreign settings, and with those exoctic places, come the exotic languages. He has devised a chart (you know how happy charts make me) to keep the many languages his characters speak straight. It is an easy way to do so, and is a great way to make what editors call a ‘style guide’ when you are working in different worlds.

For more about Stephen’s chart and his books, go to:

DeConstruction of the Sekuatean Empire: What language are we speaking today? Understanding the worlds of Stephen Swartz

But what if we don’t work in earthly languages? What if our reality is, in truth, UNreality?

All the more important to make yourself a style guide for your project. This will ensure consistency, especially when you are making up words.  Readers will notice inconsistencies, even though we as authors rarely see them in our own work.

Some things to consider:

What words need to capitalized at all times? Temple

What words must be hyphenated at all times? Battle-mage

How do you spell that city’s name again? Ludwellyn

Stephen’s Chart can be adapted to create a style guide for your work quite easily.  I think I’ll have me some fun with excel today!

style guide for Neveyah

 

2 Comments

Filed under Battles, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing

Achieving a Balanced Narrative

395px-Ellimans-Universal-Embrocation-Slough-1897-AdI was involved (as a horrified bystander) in an online dispute over how much description is needed in today’s genre fiction.  I walked wide of that mess, as it was clear that one author with an online pseudonym was in assassin mode. The other, whose prose had been harshly critiqued, also using a pseudonym, had called in her flying monkeys, all of whom proceeded to tear the argumentative ‘troll’ to shreds.

Ugh.  What a waste of time for all of us, bystanders included. It should have been a civilized discussion about using adjectives and achieving balance when showing and not telling your story.

Sadly, in this case the troll was right, but his attitude was so arrogant, he negated the value of his opinion, with normally sane people reduced to begging him to just ‘shut it.’

The prose in question was far too florid for my taste, forcing the reader to watch every excruciating, drawn out second as the the main character slowly curved his lush, full lips into a sexy, white smile, his pink tongue just touching his full, trembling, lower lip.

Pardon me, I must go barf now.

I prefer to read work written with in a lean style, as too much showing gets in the way of the story. It becomes a matter of the author forcing his vision onto me, as the reader, and is just as unpleasant to read as a narrative that tells you how to feel.

This is my view on the subject of description in the narrative: when you write about a room, any room, you don’t describe the details of room. You tell the character’s story as he enters the room.

What does the character see? What does he or she do in response to those things? Do they use the old wall-mounted telephone? Do they open the drapes? Perhaps he picks up the newspaper, and continues into the kitchen. Each character is different, and will see and do different things, and through those actions your room will come into focus in the mind of the observer–the reader.

Describing emotions is done the same way as describing the setting. We have all been told over and over again that in narrative, the most intimate way to show a feeling is to show the state of the protagonist’s body.

But how do we do that?  Let’s take humiliation:

Her face turned bright red in embarrassment.  

This sentence is what we call telling–the author has baldly told you how the character feels and why. This separates the reader from the sense of being the character. While the character may feel that her face had flushed, it’s unlikely that she would know the exact shade of red she had turned. To make it from the protagonist’s point of view and keep it simple, just write what happened.

Her face burned and she turned away.

Here is my  thought on this subject: we don’t need to get crazy, and give the minute details of her burning flesh heating up until she could see her nose glowing like Rudolph on steroids…we just need simple descriptions that point the reader in the right direction. If our character is really humiliated you can add one more descriptor, but still keep it simple:

Her face burned, and nauseated, she turned away.  

This is as much humiliation as I would put a reader through in one sentence. Realistically, the protagonist would feel the burning of her face, and would feel the nausea. The reader will taste the nausea if you describe the sensations with too much detail so keep the details to the bare minimum.

With that said, it is crucial that you give SOME clues as to what the character is feeling, as the reader will be completely lost without some sort of visual cues.

640px-Bicycling-ca1887-bigwheelersTake a look at what the protagonist’s body might be doing. What did it feel like when you experienced the same emotion? What did your body do? What did you feel inside? Was there a heaviness in your chest? A lump in your throat? Did you feel light-headed or weak-kneed? Did your face burn? Close your eyes and think about how you experience an emotional moment and allow your senses to take over.

With that memory in your head, write it down.

Just remember that it is crucial that you don’t over do it. Just like riding a bicycle, you must have balance in your descriptions: there must be enough description to intrigue the reader, but not so much it overpowers the story.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Battles, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Romance, Self Publishing, Steampunk, Uncategorized, WordPress, writer, writing

Clauses and Pauses

commaCommas–those mysterious, curving morsels of punctuation designed to contain clauses, but which, when used  irresponsibly, wreak havoc in the ordinary life of the author.

According to the wonderful website, Get it Write, there are two specific situations that call for the use of a comma before the word and:

The first instance is created when there are  three or more items in a series. This mark of punctuation is called the serial comma which I covered in a post called Comatose Ambiguity, (see link here)

“The second situation occurs when “and” is being used to coordinate two independent clauses. An independent clause—also known as a main clause—is a group of words that has a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a sentence. In the following example, the independent clauses are in brackets:

  • [Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years], and [today he is an accomplished performer].

“The use of the comma would also apply when any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) join two independent clauses.

“Notice in the next example that we do not use a comma before “and” because it does not join two independent clauses but merely joins two verbs:

  • Miguel took piano lessons for sixteen years and today is an accomplished performer.

“Here we have only one independent clause—two verbs (“took” and “is”) but one subject (“Miguel”).” (Quoted directly from Get it Write, Sept 8, 2014)

I know this will be difficult for some to swallow, but commas do not serve as pausing places for the reader to breathe.  They join together clauses–short sentences–that would make your narrative sound choppy if they were left to stand by themselves. Take these short sentences, for instance:

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily. He cut a swath through the ranks quickly. Even Garran had no legitimate complaints. He still needled John at every opportunity.

Each sentence  can technically stand alone, but they are boring and choppy that way.

Rall had seen to it that John sparred daily, cutting a swath through the ranks at such a rate that even Garran had no legitimate complaints, although he still needled him at every opportunity.

Another good online reference is Brian Wasko’s Write at Home Blog. His article called 7 Ways NOT to Use a Comma is good stuff. Of particular interest to this post on using commas for pauses: “The comma-by-ear method doesn’t work — at least not consistently. I inevitably inserted unnecessary commas all over the place.”

One rule he mentions (that is one of my personal weak areas) is rule number four (and I love his comments): 

4. Don’t use a comma to connect two clauses if the second clause is subordinate (i.e., dependent).

Frowny face:  Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined, because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers.

Smiley face: Mrs. Johnson’s garden was ruined because rabbits nibbled her cucumbers. (end quote)

I would have shot straight to sticking the comma in front of ‘because’ because it is a good place to pause. (Yep. I said because because.) (Snicker.)

Using commas for pauses is an invitation for comatose mayhem. Consider this: Every person reads aloud at a different rate and with a different cadence. If you indiscriminately throw your commas in wherever YOU think a pause should go, your prose will be filled with strange bumps in the road, because your reader won’t be pausing where YOU think they should. No matter how much of a control freak you are, you can’t force people to read the same way you do. This is why we follow common rules when using punctuation.

Commas separate independent clauses from each other and also from introductory words. In other words, they divide little sentences from each other in order to form compound sentences. 

Oh, the editorial agony.

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under blogging, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, WordPress, writer, writing

Write write write…

225px-Ff12castRight now I am writing two fantasies, both based in  the world of Neveyah, which was originally designed for an old-school RPG that didn’t get built.

When I write in Neveyah, I find myself gaming more during my downtime than reading. Dragon Age, Final Fantasy–those are my games.  Anything where I can go out and hack, slash, and throw a little magic around, while great music and wonderful storylines unfold–those are the games that intrigue me.  Anything to get to that all important cut scene!

Not only am I writing the 3rd and 4th books in the Tower of Bones series, I am in the re-editing process for Tower of Bones, the first book in the series. It has been a slow process, as my editor in England has been unwell, and has also had her own wonderful work to write. But it is getting there, and when it is republished, it will be what it should have been when it was originally written.

When I first started this gig, I knew I wanted to be an indie, even though I knew it would be hard, and my sales would be miserable. The point for me was that I could be published and have some control over my work.

What I didn’t realize, is that your friends, wonderful people that they are, are not editors. They don’t really notice anything but the most glaring errors, and they miss a great many of those! Places where you have repeated yourself ad nauseam, and places that are phrased in a confusing way are skipped over.  Large plotholes, clichés, and intriguing auto-correct mistakes get missed when your eager-to-help friends try to edit your work.

You see–very rarely are you BFFs with an editor to begin with–although, through this process, I have become BFFs with MY editors.

Your friends know they don’t like what you wrote, but they don’t know why, so they plow through it as fast as they can just to get the misery done with. They will spot a few problems, which helps, but isn’t going to make your ms readable.

Oh, they aren’t going to tell you that, but they will think it. “This is really different. I’m a little confused about the dog who was an arsonist, but it’s really…unique.”

Do hire an editor. Even if you plan to submit it to a large publisher, do this, so that what you submit will be the best you can offer them.

SO, right now I am working on two books, one that runs concurrent with Forbidden Road, detailing events involving Edwin’s father, John Farmer, and also the follow-up to Forbidden Road, concluding that tale. I am also occasionally working on the rewrite of The Last Good Knight, which is what  Julian Lackland’s story was originally, and is the book Huw the Bard evolved from.  That one is complete, but it needs to sit on the back-burner for a spell while I gain some perspective on it.  Then I will go through it one more time and find an editor for it.

Then, there is Mountains of the Moon, which is in the editing queue.  Not sure if that will be done anytime soon, but rushing to publish is no longer my thing.

Goodness knows how all this will come together, but I love it.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Blogger, blogging, Books, Fantasy, Final Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Uncategorized, writer, writing