Saturday, December 27, 2008

Using this blog for its intended purpose.

Is it bad that today I remembered one more thing that I disliked about Seize the Night? I'm not going to blog about it right now, because I honestly need to stop thinking about that darned book and focus my thoughts on more important things, like my own writing, the game room renovations we'll* be starting on Monday, and the New Year's Day gift exchange we'll be hosting.

If a song that keeps playing over and over in your mind is an earworm, what do you call a book whose details keep occupying your thoughts? Is it an eyeworm? A mindworm? A bookworm? No, wait, that's something else altogether. The thing that annoyed me the most was that on Wednesday night, my dreams were partially set in the world of the book. I never dream about being in MY book's world**, but my subconscious has no problem sticking me in a world populated by annoyingly emo vampire hunters. Thanks, brain. Is this how you repay me? 26 years of letting you live in my skull, and this is what it's come down to?

So, as you might have surmised from the title of this blog post, I am procrastinating. That's what this blog is for: killing time and telling you all about my writing. Perhaps I should ramble a little less, and talk a little more about writing.

My gift to myself on Christmas Day*** was to spend the entire day writing. Since I didn't have the internet, I couldn't post on this blog. Instead, I played various forms of Solitaire and Minesweeper (I literally have nothing installed on this laptop). There's only so long I can play such games, so I managed to write somewhere between 15 and 16 pages. I think the most I've ever written in a day is in the 20 range, and that tends to happen either when I've just started a story and I'm full of inspiration, or I've just hit the end and I simply can't go to sleep without finishing it (those are the days when I go to bed shortly before my husband gets up for work). I'm usually lucky to write more than a page or two a day lately, as I've really been dragging my feet. So 15-16 was a big deal for me.

The reason that I've been dragging my feet for so long is that I've reached the point in the book where various plot points and characters have to converge. Making them come together smoothly is hard work. Luckily, while I was out in the desert, taking my friend's dogs for a walk, I had some inspiration on how to smooth over a couple of issues I was having trouble with. Once I did that, I fell into this rush to write everything I'd thought of. This resulted in a lot of rather short scenes that I'll probably have to flesh out a bit more in my second draft. But at least I'm moving forward again.

For no reason other than that I feel like it, I think I'll start adding my current wordcount to every blog post, so that I can track my progress and see just how lazy I am. Today's wordcount: 77,932.

*I often blog under the assumption that everyone already knows everything about my life. "We" pretty much always refers to me and my husband Chris, although in this case, my Dad and possibly my brother and some of our friends will be helping with the game room project.

**Two of the four books in my currently-abandoned series were inspired by dreams, but that doesn't count. I had the dreams then wrote the books, not the other way around.

***I haven't celebrated Christmas for about 13 years now, but I take any excuse to give myself a gift. Also, I can't stop writing footnotes tonight.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I am a defective woman.

If stereotypes are to be believed, I should like romance novels. It's like porn for girls, right? So I guess if I was a guy, I wouldn't like porn, because I'm totally not getting into the paranormal romance genre. I've tried. Honestly I have. I've read a whole... three novels that might count as paranormal romance. Plus one entire series that sits somewhere between paranormal romance and normal modern fantasy. The series I can handle, but the honest-to-goodness romance stuff just annoys me on several levels.

I spent Christmas Eve reading Sherrilyn Kenyon's Seize the Night. It was a Comic Con give-away, so I decided I'd read it and review it for Collector Times. After writing a three-page review (which will be available on January 1st), I realized that I hadn't managed to complain about everything that annoyed me about it, so it's spilling over into this little rant.

So you don't feel lost, here's a capsule review: Seize the Night is a book in the middle of a series about a bunch of immortal demon/vampire hunters called the Dark-Hunters, who work under the auspices of the Greek goddess Artemis. This particular volume concerns a 2000 year old Roman general, and the 20-or-30-something human vampire hunter who are complete opposites but fall in luuuuuurve anyway, while kind of sort of maybe worrying about killing some demon/vampires that want to kill her twin sister, who is married to one of his old enemies.

I addressed a lot of my problems with the book in specific and the genre in general in the review, so I won't rehash them here, but here are a few more that I came up with:

1: Seriously people, learn how to portray gods. This was the second book I've read where the author comes up with a depiction of a goddess that I completely disagree with. I'm not an expert, per se, but I have studied a bit of mythology in my time, and the two goddesses in specific are ones I've read up quite a bit on: The Morrigan and Artemis. The former is a crow goddess of death and the battlefield. She wasn't a very nice lady. She forced Cu Cuchlain into a situation where he had to choose to break one or the other of his two geases, leading to his death. Yet Nora Roberts somehow manages to portray her as some sweet, beautiful, nature-loving, vampire-hating goddess. And then there's Artemis, who's considered indifferent at best to men, if not a man-hater and/or lesbian. She was a capable huntress and was later syncretized with a fellow moon-goddess, Hecate, the goddess of crossroads, who is also often associated with magic. How do you take that and turn it into a woman who keeps a stable of incredibly sexy men as her person demon/vampire hunters? And who, when we finally actually see her in the book, spends her time ineffectively dithering about what to do to avoid upsetting the oh-so-sexy and mysterious uber-character? She comes across like a schoolgirl who's freaking out because she put a scratch on her crush's sports car. Ugh.

I understand that in many mythologies, the gods were seen merely as more powerful reflections of ourselves, with all the foibles of humanity writ large. But I'd still like to see a god or goddess written in a way that suggests that they should actually inspire awe and worship in mortals. At the very least, having lived for thousands of years should give them some level of wisdom and maturity beyond that of the average human.

2: And while we're talking about wisdom and maturity... how about men who have lived for thousands of years, entering into relationships with women in their 20s or 30s? Talk about robbing the cradle! When discussing age differences of 10 years or so, people often bring up the difficulty of differing life experiences, relationship expectations, and lifestyles. How much worse is it going to be for someone who has seen empires rise and fall, living with someone who can count the number of presidential terms they lived through on their fingers?

Then, of course, the immortal has to either accept the fact that their loved one will die after a few decades, while they live on for many centuries. Or they have to somehow give up their immortality, so they can live out a single lifetime with their lover. Let me tell you, my husband and I have had to deal with fights over the minor sacrifices we've made for each other. Can you imagine having THAT thrown in your face every time you have a fight? "Oh yeah? I gave up ETERNITY for you! I don't think asking you to do the dishes is such a big deal compared to that." Plus, what if the mortal love dies suddenly and unexpectedly, mere weeks after you've sacrificed your immortality? I doubt the gods are just going to give it back to you, because you ask nicely. Now there's a book I want to read.

Or perhaps, in some fairy tale endings, the mortal love is granted immortality. Well snap. You get to spend eternity with your lover. Hope it works out for you. Hope you don't mind watching every single other person you love grow old and die. Hope you're prepared to deal with changing your identity every few decades to avoid suspicion. Hope that your kids are immortal, too. No parent should have to outlive all of their children.

3: Three words for you: whirlwind freakin' courtships. Yes, people can know almost from the start of a relationship that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. But I have a hard time suspending my belief when, within a matter of *days* two characters go from hating each other to not just hopping into the sack, but declaring their love for each other. And then within weeks or months, they're married. Awww. How sweet. Right. That totally happens in real life.

4: Do Romans taste better than those who are not? (bonus points if you catch the song reference) Several times during the course of Seize the Night, the female lead "moans at the taste of her Roman" (or general). Does his nationality really affect his flavor? And can he really be called "her general" the first freakin' time she kisses him? Does a single kiss immediately confer ownership? Perhaps that's how vampire hunters mark their territory. I suppose it's better than my cat's method, but it has to be really weird, watching her walk through the store and smooch everything before she buys it.

5: Unquestioning acceptance of flaws and shady past. If my husband of eight years, whom I already love very much, confessed to me some dark secret from his youth, I would probably be able to forgive him. If some guy that I just met less than a week ago had done horrible things, and my family already hated him, and I didn't find out from him, but from some god who thought I should know what I was getting into, I wouldn't just shrug it all off and say "Oh, that's ok, he did the wrong things for the right reasons." I might still end up with the guy eventually, but I'd have to take at least a few days off from the relationship to think things through and ask myself if I could really live with a man who had, say, tortured people.

Then again, I suppose all of the mind-numbingly great sex that we'd been having over the past few days of knowing each other might cloud my judgement a bit (I could say more on the subject of the sex, but I told Blogger that this blog didn't have adult content, so I don't want to get too detailed).

6: Deus Ex Machina. Ok, this is something I hate about any book in any genre, or any movie for that matter, who can't just let its main characters solve their problems. But really, what is the point of having two moderately powerful characters, and making me spend an entire book watching them fall in luuuuuurve, if in the end, they have so little to do with the climax of the story that they might as well not be there? Seriously, I thought I was finally going to see some action of the non-sexual sort, but instead I get some uber-character coming in and taking care of everything with little more than a flick of the wrist. Gee. That's exciting.

I suppose the worst part of all is that whenever I read a book that I don't like, I get really paranoid about my own writing and I have to go back over it and question whether I'm doing any of the things that bothered me about what I just read. But then again, if I find that my writing is too bad, I guess I can come up with reasons for my characters to have mind-numbingly good sex, add a few lines about burning groins, market it as paranormal romance, and become a best seller.

No, I'm not bitter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Background: Ainsley Anklam, Rifts

To help keep things from getting stale around here, I'm going to post a few roleplaying character background stories. Don't worry, I won't be offended if you don't want to read them. I figure a lot of people out there are about as interested in my character stories as I am in stories about sports games (that is to say, not at all).

The story of Ainsley Anklam -- a Temporal Wizard in a Rifts game that I played for a few months -- seems like a good place to start. It doesn't have very many gaming terms at all in it, it's short, and it's a demonstration of how I use character backgrounds as a way to experiment with different narrative styles and voices. I would never write anything of any serious length from first person with such a casual tone, but it works for a background. It helps me cement the character in my mind, and it gives the gamemaster a good idea of what he can expect from me.

Rifts is a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi game that takes place in a future Earth with magic, monsters, robots, all sorts of crazy stuff. Rifts are magical portals that stuff can travel through. DeeBee is slang for Dimensional Being (any species not originally from Earth). Other than that, I think I kept the terminology at a minimum. So, Merry Christmas, and if you know someone who might like to read this, feel free to re-gift by giving them a link ;)

My Daddy was a grifter. We were always on the move and he was always doing little things to get stuff for free. Free meals, free lodging, free money. Sometimes it was honest stuff, play up on peoples’ sympathies and they’ll help you out of the kindness of their hearts, but most of the time it was straight-up scam artistry. I helped a lot. After all, what better to set people at ease than a cute little red-headed girl with a smattering of freckles? It varied whether I was an actual participant in his grift, or just an adorable presence at his elbow, smiling at the mark.
Sure, I remember a lot of the ploys we used to use - but I sure ain’t gonna tell you. Trade secret, you know.
Daddy had a lot of good words for advice. He’d tell me things like “Honesty is a virtue in other people and a weakness in yourself” and “Look both ways before crossing the street” and “Never eat expired ham.” But his favorite thing to say, above all else, was “You can’t con the con man.”
He should have listened to his own advice. He always thought that it meant that no one could con him and he never stopped to think that maybe he should be careful to make sure he wasn’t trying to pull one over on someone even trickier than him. One day he tried to pull off a huge scheme on some other guy. I don’t even know what he was doing, or how he messed it up, or what the terms were, but apparently it was some sort of bet that he lost, and I was the wager.
So that’s how I found myself, at the age of 10, as the property of some ugly whatsit who liked to be-bop around in time and space. No kidding.
I went from assisting one con to assisting another, but my master wasn’t a small-timer like Daddy. He did big jobs. Sometimes he tricked people out of stuff, but mostly he just took it. I learned a lot from watching him, ways to distract people and then just pick something up when they weren’t looking. Fun stuff. He taught me some important stuff, too, like how to speak a couple languages and even read Euro, and how to do math.
When I got old enough, he taught me all kinds of skills that he found it helpful for me to have. Every now and then, he’d steal something big, like a vehicle, and we’d need to break it down to parts. Then we’d have to find buyers. Mostly the boss-man would do that, but sometimes he’d let me tag along. I got to know a thing or two about buying and selling and being sly about it. One day he caught me palming, and gave me some exercises that would teach me how to “do it right.” He also gave me some locks to play with. Daddy would’ve been proud, I think.
Sometimes, when he didn’t want to travel ‘round with his magic, he’d let me drive. I got pretty good with cars and hovers; anything else he’d pilot himself. Just because I crashed that one tank into a building in the middle of our great getaway...
Things weren’t too bad with him, all told. Sure, he wasn’t loving like Daddy, and he had this bad habit of wanting to be all “mysterious” - bastard never even told me his name, so I started thinking of him as “Big Ugly,” though I always called him Boss or Master. He liked that. Anyway, he took pretty good care of me. There was always food, and decent clothes, and when I was 12 he gave me my first gun. He did keep me pretty busy with chores around his “lair” (ok, so it was a nice apartment, but lair sounds more impressive), and sometimes helping with jobs.
Wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized that he’d actually wanted me for something more than housework - ugh, no, not like that you pervert. Truth be told I don’t even know if he was a he. But anyway, I was about 15 when he really took me on as an apprentice. Started teaching me about space and time and magic, and how to bend it all to my will. I’d never thought that I’d ever have a chance at that kind of power, so I latched right onto it before it could get away.
Dunno if I was a good student or not, but Big Ugly seemed happy enough with my progress. He started letting me help with the big jobs, and a couple of times he even let me do a job all by myself. I got really good at getting things, one way or another. Of course, even if I actually purchased things, they were things that someone else had stolen, and I bought them with money we had stolen. Or made by selling stolen goods. I doubt I ever handled clean money during my ‘prenticehood, but that’s ok.
We traveled around a lot, but even more once I started learning magic. All over Europe and into Asia and over to America and down into Mexico once. Of course, our travel wasn’t just limited to this world - we went to some others, too. I traveled through rifts and portals, and learned that I had a knack for reading them, which came in pretty handy. I met all kinds of DeeBees and fought a few monsters and stole stuff that I had no idea what it was. Most of it was for jobs, but sometimes it was just sitting there and I’d take it. Hell, it’s hard not to do that when you can.
We passed a little over a year like that, til one day Big Ugly said that if I wanted to work with him any longer, we’d have to strike up a new bargain. Turned out he and Daddy had struck the original bargain without consulting me, so I guess my father had some idea what he was getting me into at the time. Suppose I should be grateful, then, it was definitely a better opportunity than I’d have gotten otherwise. Anyway, I didn’t like the sounds of the bargain he wanted me to agree to, so I set off on my own.
I have to give Big Ugly one thing, he didn’t just boot me out with nothing. Couple guns, lotsa credits, some gold and gems, everything I needed to start up a new life. My share of the take from the past few years, he said. I couldn’t argue with that. He even dropped me off back in England, which was mighty nice of him. I wasn’t sure if that was where I wanted to be, of course, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.
I spent a bit of time doing my own thing, living off my wealth and enjoying being lazy before I got bored. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with myself, so I started keeping an ear and an eye out for jobs. That was when I found Phinny’s want ad...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Flashbacks: Yes, no, maybe?

Oooh, look at me, getting all fancy and posting two days in a row!

I had a thought the other day -- well, actually, I had lots, but this was the only one worth blogging about -- that maybe The Princess Dilemma could benefit from some flashbacks. I've been trying to establish a lot of the background via narration, but sometimes I worry that it comes across as a little too exposition-y.

In the interest of "showing, not telling" as we were so often instructed in class, I'm wondering if it would be better to insert some of this past information as flashbacks... Or maybe not so much flashbacks, but scenes between chapters. Between each chapter, a scene that takes place in the past. I could elaborate on some of Nyeida's past abductions, how and why Ciotoph decided to join The Syndicate, other things involving other characters that haven't yet been introduced via the excerpts on this blog. I'm thinking this might help establish the characters and flesh out the story. But on the other hand, it might be a distraction or break the flow of the story. I may have to experiment with it and figure it out. At the very least, if they don't work in the story, I'll have plenty of stuff to post here on the blog.

So then the question becomes, when do I insert them? Do I go back through right now and insert them between the 11 chapters I've written so far? Do I just start inserting some going forward, and add the rest later? Or do I continue writing as I have been, and add them in draft 2? It's something for me to play around with over the holiday.

And speaking of the holiday, I have a short story all slated to go up on Christmas. Hooray! It is absolutely, positively not Christmas-related in any way, shape or form (as I have never written a Christmas-related story and may go to my grave without having done so), so those of a particularly humbug nature need not worry about that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Been writing again.

Well, I neglected this blog for three weeks, which is patently ridiculous. I wasn't writing as much as I should have been during that time. However, last week I started again, and I'm going to try to keep up with it, which means I'll keep up with this blog. At least, that's the theory.

I've reached a point in The Princess Dilemma where a lot of the characters and plot lines are converging in one point, which has made writing a little slow, as I constantly think "Ok, so while this scene is going on, what's going on elsewhere? What are those characters up to? When are they going to encounter this problem?" I think I might need to write an actual timeline, which is not something I'm particularly adept at. I'm forging ahead as far as I can without one, because I'd always rather write fiction than write notes.

That said, I do keep some notes. It's very embarrassing to learn that you've changed a character's name mid-book, because you mis-remembered it. And it's a huge time-sink to scroll through 100 pages looking for a minor player's name. So I made myself write down all of the characters that I've introduced so far, and I'm trying to write down new names as I add them to the book.

Then there was the moment this weekend when I realized that I had not named the monarchs of three of the major countries involved in the story. Bad enough that the Elven Nation currently has no name, but neither did their Queen. So I gave the Elven queen one of my own pseudonyms. I'm so conceited that way! I might change it later, but it works as a placeholder for now.

I'll be spending Christmas Eve, Christmas, and part of Boxing Day dog-sitting for a friend of mine, and I plan to do a bit of writing while I'm there. I may or may not have an internet connection. She said that I can plug into her network, but whether my laptop will play nice remains to be seen. I think I might take advantage of Blogger's scheduled posting feature and slot a piece of fiction to run here on Christmas. I'd call it a present to my readers, but it will be one of my old roleplaying character background stories, so the quality and interest to non-gamers is dubious at best.

My next non-fiction post will probably cover flashbacks, and my current debate with myself as to whether or not I want to use them in The Princess Dilemma.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And now for something completely different.

Ok, well, maybe not completely different. Just a little bit different. This link will take you to Chapter 2 of The League of Explorers, a round robin super hero story being penned by the writers (and possibly readers) of Collector Times Online. Chapter two is written by ME! It's different, because it's a super hero story. It's not different, because it's fiction and my character Chloe has something in common with a lot of my roleplaying characters.

Of course, you may want to start with Chapter 1, which was written by Jesse N. Willey, the Collector Times writer who came up with the whole idea. You can also view the Character Sheets, where Joe Singleton has thoughtfully provided awesome art of my characters.

If you're into comic books, or other geekery, you may want to browse around Collector Times a bit. You may even find more (non-fiction) writing from me. I've been doing columns and reviews there for years, and I love it. The entire magazine is an ads-free, volunteer-run labor of love which happens to attract some very opinionated, well-spoken, and imaginative writers and artists.