Sunday, August 2, 2009

This month on Collector Times

I have two items on Collector Times this month. First, as promised, I wrote the 10th chapter of the monthly Round Robin story, "The League of Explorers." I'm afraid my chapter is a bit short and sparse as I was suffering writer's block and actually didn't even start it until after the mid-month deadline. Thank goodness for a forgiving editor.

Also, I wrote a review of Jay Lake's Mainspring.

This makes several months in a row that I haven't been able to come up with anything for my gaming column, Playing God. I need to dredge up some inspiration for that.

I haven't been writing much at all lately, just reading, but ideas and desire are bubbling just below the surface... I just need to set aside the time and make myself do it.

Maybe then I'll update this blog more than once or twice a month! I really appreciate those of you who still pop in to read and comment despite my sporadic posting schedule. Thank you!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My first rejection letter!

Last weekend, I was bored, and hanging out on Twitter, and I saw that Tweet The Meat had open submissions. What have I got to lose? I asked myself, and in my boredom, I wrote up a quick 135 character long storylet and sent it in.

Not surprisingly, I had a rejection form letter in my e-mail a few days later. True to their word, Tweet The Meat's editors had read and responded to my tiny bit of fiction within 1 week. Their rejection was very politely worded and invited me to submit more fiction, and included what their upcoming theme was.

As you can tell, I'm not very broken up by this. It took me less than 5 minutes to embark on my first foray into micro-fiction, and that includes proof-reading and editing. It's like easing myself into the world of rejection letters. If I'm not overly attached to what's being rejected, I don't have to be hurt that they didn't accept it and I didn't earn $1, minus PayPal fees.

I'll talk more about my thoughts of micro-fiction in another post, and share some of the fiction-y Twitter feeds that I follow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: The Night Watch

A few years ago, Sergei Lukyanenko's novel The Night Watch was made into a movie. As I watched the movie, I found myself thinking "This would be a lot better if they took any time to explain anything. Maybe the book is better."

A few months ago, I found said book at the used bookstore and decided to find out if it was any better. The answer was a definite "yes," though it's still not without its flaws. I found it to be a really interesting read. Moscow is a new and different setting for me, the writing was evocative, and the cast of Light and Dark agents are interesting.

If there's one big problem with The Night Watch, it's that it is marketed as a horror novel, and it fails to live up to this expectation. It takes more than vampires to make horror. Horror needs to be scary, eerie, or intense. There's a lot of darkness in the world of the Watches, but the pacing of the book keeps it from being scary. Everything feels a little too casual. The main character is already pretty well-steeped in the supernatural world. Sure, he's moving from a desk job to being a field agent, but he has enough knowledge that he faces the challenges ahead of him without too much fear of the unknown.

While I read this book, I was turning the pages out of curiosity over the story, rather than any sense of urgency. This lack of intensity causes me to feel that it's much more effective as a dark, brooding, but introspective fantasy, rather than a true horror.

There are some major differences between the book and the movie -- the movie starts out with the main character going to a Dark sorceress for a magical abortion on his cheating wife. This never happens in the book. The first third of the book does otherwise mostly follow the movie's plot, but without some of the subplots, and with some differences in character and plot resolution. The rest of the novel consists of two other stories (both like short, interconnected novels of their own) which continue the main plot thread while introducing secondary plots that move it along. The third story even allows us to see how the Light agents act on their rare days off, which was fun.

The Night Watch is the first of a four-book series, and I intend to work my way through the rest, assuming they don't take a steep nosedive in quality.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Another book review on CT.

I have a review of The Somnambulist over at Collector Times this month. There will also be some new reviews here at the blog soon, as I've been reading a lot lately.

My next writing project is the next chapter of the League of Explorers round robin story we've been doing over at Collector Times. I like how Jesse treated my characters in this most recent chapter, and I'm looking forward to getting back to Chloe the dreamwalker and Tuffy the talking corgi.

I suppose it's an interesting coincidence that I reviewed a book called The Somnambulist and next I'll be working on a story about a super hero reluctantly codenamed Somnambula, but I've long since accepted that dreaming-related things will be prevalent in my life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm

The best sort of friend is the one who knows about your interests outside of whatever brought you together, and gives you gifts related to that. Like my gaming friend who brought me a pearl from Hawaii because he knows I do beadwork. Or a beading friend who sends me a book on writing, because she knows that I'm an aspiring author.

That was how Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller ended up in my hands. This book's subtitle is "Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop" which sums things up pretty nicely. It's a memoir and a how-to beautifully wrapped up together.

Many years ago, another beading friend who was very supportive of my writing sent me On Writing by Stephen King. That book spent the first half of itself detailing the author's early life and journey to being published, and then delved into his drug abuse and more, before switching gears to being a how-to.

Storyteller takes a different approach. The author reminisces about the years that she and her husband (the late Damon Knight) spent at Clarion, starting at the very first Workshop (actually, starting with a different workshop that inspired it), and as she tells this tale, she also weaves in how they worked, how the workshops evolved, and what exercises the reader can do at home to improve their writing without attending a 6 week workshop.

I'd heard of the Clarion workshops before but didn't really know much about them. By reading this book, I learned that it was a 6-week residential workshop geared towards writing short stories of genre fiction. Students wrote while at the workshop, and had their work critiqued. What was interesting to me was that the writing class that I took, that was very biased towards literary fiction ("genre fiction" was often said with contempt, much to the dismay of those of us who wrote it) used the exact same style of critiquing as was laid out in this book. Take that, literary snobs!

Most of the exercises are geared towards short story writers and would be impractical for a novelist to use -- for instance, it's recommended that you cover up all of your story except for one sentence, and see if that sentence says what you want it to. And then you do that with every sentence. Tedious with the 12-page stories students were producing at Clarion. Damn near impossible for a many thousands of words long novel like The Princess Dilemma.

Some exercises, however, would work for a piece of any length. For instance, writing a scene multiple times, from the point of view of different characters. And doing the same with character descriptions. By creating three or so different subjective points of view, the author then has a more objective point of view of the scene or character in question.

Although this advice is scattered throughout the book, it's also gathered conveniently in the end, for ease of future reference.

As much as I found the lessons and exercises to be thought-provoking, it was the memoir aspect of this book that kept me turning the pages. Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight taught at Clarion from 1967 to 1994. The chapters about the early days of the workshop were like a window into another world. The late 60s were a time when a woman in jeans or a man with long hair were still looked upon with a certain amount of confusion or even distrust. Co-ed dorms were practically unheard of, curfews at the colleges were strict, and the towns rolled up the sidewalk at 6pm (ok, there are still parts of Tucson that do that in 2009...). A time when an author couldn't just walk down to B&N to pick up the latest Writer's Handbook to get all of the advice they needed, nor could they attend writing workshops in their own city, unless they were very lucky.

Storyteller never dwells on any one thing, occasionally leaving me wanting to know more about how certain things were resolved, more about the students over the years. At 190 pages, it's a slim volume. At times it feels almost shallow, skimming over things, moving on to the next tidbit about the difference between plotted and unplotted stories or an anecdote about a squirt gun battle that got out of hand. It's almost like you're sitting in Kate Wilhelm's living room, and she's telling you the story, and each little thing sends her off on a tangent, and then she might forget to come back to where she left off. Maybe that's where the title comes from.

All in all, I thought this was a neat little book and will probably improve my writing, even though my main focus right now is novels. I would especially recommend it for anyone trying to get published in the short story market. It was published by Small Beer Press and you should be able to purchase it directly from them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An old character story

I was poking around in my writing folder and I came across this story that I wrote for a D&D character. It's fun sometimes to go through my old character stories, they remind me of games that never finished, and friendships that have drifted away. Bittersweet, perhaps, but mostly sweet. This file says last modified in 2006, but I think the story is a little older than that.


Once, she was a dancer. In those days her name was Elysa, a name that she considered to be as beautiful and graceful as she was. Her grace was such that from a distance, only her height served as proof that she was not an elf. Her beauty was not exceptional, but it was enough, and her fame as a dancer served only to make her more attractive in the eyes of the people.

Everyone imagined Elysa to be as charming as she was lovely, but this was far from the truth. She was a proud woman, with an incredibly sharp tongue that she had no compunctions against using. She felt that her fame was her due, and that she deserved all of the best things in life, which she rarely got (her dancing brought her far more fame than money). Elysa constantly strove to find a wealthy patron who would reward her art with a shower of lavish gifts, but her arrogance drove most people away.

At the age of 18, she met what seemed to be the perfect patron. Vedorn was a young, attractive nobleman who seemed quite smitten by her. Elysa was dazzled by his masculine good looks and the promise of his wealth. Though she was seeking a patron, she ended up with a husband instead. Their wedding was a huge affair, with hundreds of guests and a huge celebration feast. Elysa left the city to go spend her honeymoon at his country estate.

When she got there, all of the illusions crumbled. The country estate was not as grand as Vedorn had promised, and it turned out that he had spent nearly all of his wealth courting her and throwing the wedding party. The happy couple came home to a small, run-down estate out in the sticks, and the happiness ended there. Vedorn learned what a sharp-tongued shrew Elysa was, and Elysa learned that Vedorn was not above raising his hand to his wife. Each learned that the other had a fiery temper, and they fought constantly.

In addition to their temper and greed, Elysa and Vedorn had one major thing in common; they were both too proud to admit to the mistake of their marriage. They stayed together and maintained the illusion of marital bliss. Elysa still kept her small home in the city, and danced whenever she could, bringing her money home to Vedorn.

Although they quickly grew to hate each other, the physical attraction remained, and make-up sex became the one good thing about their fights. It came as no surprise, then, that Elysa eventually conceived, and then gave birth to a son a little more than a year after they had been married. Their child actually brought a little calmness to the marriage, as they each discovered a spot in their selfish hearts where their was room for love for their son. As well, Vedorn was proud to have an heir and Elysa loved how her friends all oohed and aahed over her and her baby.

Even their shared love of their son wasn’t enough to fully bring Vedorn and Elysa together, however, and though they fought less often, they still fought just as fiercely. Elysa was adept at goading Vedorn to anger, constantly harping on him for being one of the poorest nobles in the land and “forcing” his wife to dance just to have enough money to raise their son. If he hit her, she would remind him of how the bruises marred her beauty, making it hard for her to get work dancing.

And so it continued until the night when things went too far. Elysa provoked Vedorn until at least he truly snapped. He yelled and screamed and raged as he always did, and hit her and threw things, as he always did. His madness didn’t become apparent until he threw an oil lamp at Elysa and laughed when it shattered against the wall and splashed burning oil everywhere.

“Let it all burn up!” he screamed. He pinned her against the wall and wouldn’t let her leave as the flames spread throughout the room. Through her anger and panic, Elysa tried to reason with him, tried to remind him of their child, but still he insisted that they would die together and end the farce.

Desperation lent her strength, and eventually she was able to fight him off. She ran towards her child’s room, but she never made it. A falling timber struck her, trapped her, and that she did not have enough strength to escape. The house continued to burn around her, and the suffocating smoke overwhelmed her. Her vision went black, and it was some time before she came to in a strange place.

By the time anyone arrived to put out the flames, it was too late. Much of the house had been consumed, leaving only stone and brick and debris. In amongst the men armed with buckets there were clerics of various churches, there to pray for the departed souls and offer what help they could through the magical creation of water and spells which boosted the strength and stamina of the erstwhile firemen.

It was a cleric of Ilmater who felt drawn to Elysa as the volunteers pulled her badly burnt body from the wreckage. Drawing closer, he saw that she was not dead. “This one will return with me to my god’s temple,” he said. He could feel the hand of his god guiding him to help her. There would be much suffering to ease.

He healed the burns just in time to keep her from dying, though her body was left quite scarred, and much of her hair was gone. The healing did not wake her, however, so he carried her the long way back to his temple, praying to his god for the wisdom necessary to help her through such a painful time.

Elysa awakened in the temple of Ilmater, disoriented and distraught. She demanded to know what had happened, and when she found out the truth, it crushed her. The house was gone, Vedorn and their child were dead. The flames had taken her beauty, too. She was left with nothing. For a time, she withdrew into herself. She did not speak, and she had to be forced to take those actions that would keep her alive, such as eating and drinking.

During this time, the cleric who had saved her ministered to her. He shared with her the doctrine of Ilmater, and also the personal pain that he had been through before he found peace in the church. As Elysa listened, she realized the folly of her life up until that point. Her vanity and pride had been her downfall, and it had cost her child his life. The cleric told her that enlightenment often came through suffering, and he was right.

When at last she finally spoke, Elysa stated that she was going to rededicate her life to Ilmater and his church. Deep inside, she did not feel that she was worthy to even presume to be a vessel of a god’s power, so rather than seeking to become a cleric or paladin, she stated that she would join the ranks of the monks she had seen practicing. Perhaps she would be able to channel some of the anger that she felt at herself into righteous violence.

Elysa realized that deep down inside, she was still the same person. Enlightenment was not instant, and she had much work to do. To ensure that vanity would never again be a problem, she refused to seek out any healing for her scars. Her outer appearance, she felt, reflected the ugliness that she’d always had inside.

It was her tongue that really worried her, so she took a vow of silence, swearing to not speak again until she achieved true enlightenment and inner peace. To remind herself of this, she had her tongue pierced with a sharp spike, its presence reminding her of the pain a sharp tongue can cause. To remind others of her vow, she took to wearing a tight mask around the lower half of her face, a sign that nothing would leave her mouth.

She said only one last thing before swearing her vow. “The woman that I was is dead. Call me Null, for I am nothing.”

Null trained in silence, and because she did not speak, she spent much time listening. She grew familiar with the doctrines of the church and pondered them always, growing wise in ways she had never been before. She learned when to end suffering, when to ease it, and when to administer it. Still, though, inner peace avoided her. She remained bitter and sarcastic, and as such, she remained silence.

She made no real friends at the temple. Not only did she not speak, but she never sought out the company of others. She never fully fit in at the temple, and so when it was suggested that she travel with a cleric who was scouting out a new temple location, she agreed with a sharp nod of her head. The journey to true enlightenment would be a long one, and it could not be completed within the temple walls.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My current project

I haven't been working much on The Princess Dilemma (more on that in a later post), but I have been writing a bit. My current project is yet another gaming character background story. Sometimes I question why I bother writing them, as they usually only have an audience of one (the gamemaster), but then I remind myself that they're just good practice.

And sometimes, they lead to fun research. The game in question is set in our modern world, and the character in question is the daughter of the Hindu goddess Parvati (well, sort of. The gaming sourcebook played a little fast and loose with the Hindu pantheon, as White Wolf games are wont to do with complex and nuanced mythologies). This has sent me all over the internet, reading up on Parvati, Hindu temples, various regions in India, the languages spoken therein, and Indian surnames.

Of course, I'll probably forget most of this fascinating information in the next few weeks (I've already forgotten the word for the towers on Hindu temples, and I just read that last night), but it was still an enjoyable experience to hunt the information down and read up on things that I otherwise never would have thought of.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

My Halting State Review on CT

I haven't been writing enough for Collector Times lately, so I decided to write my Halting State review for them instead of for my blog. Click here to read it!

My book hasn't been touched in months, but life has settled down enough that I think it's time to get back to writing. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

I'm not normally in the habit of reading kids and YA books. I keep hearing great things about a lot of newer YA fantasy, and I'm sure that it is great, but there's a lot of adult fantasy that I still have to read, and those books tend to be longer, thus giving me more bang for my buck. However, I was intrigued by Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book when I first heard its premise, and decided that I would eventually read it.

At first, I planned to buy the book, but the holidays were approaching and my mother-in-law knows that my husband and I love Gaiman's work, so I decided to wait and see if a copy was part of our holiday package. It wasn't, but then I got distracted by other things. Then my in-laws came to visit from NY and my MIL had read The Graveyard Book on the plane, and she gave it to me, because that's the sort of awesome mother-in-law she is.

A month passed while I was busy, and then one night (Wednesday, to be exact), I was sick and bored, and there it was, sitting, waiting for me on the little end table in my living room. I said to myself "I believe I shall start reading this book." I then proceeded to read it in essentially a single sitting, with only one brief web comic reading break.

Like I said above, kids books, they are too short!

Despite being short, and not as in-depth as I would have liked, The Graveyard Book was a good read. It tells the story of Nobody Owens (Bod for short, Bob to the sort of people who don't care enough to pay attention to what your name really is), a child who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts after an assassin murders the rest of his family. The chapters jump forward in time, different episodes in Bod's life that tie together to form the main plot. It's episodic enough in nature that I could easily see a parent reading a chapter a night with or to their child, but compelling enough that I can also see that parent reading ahead after the kid has gone to sleep.

Bod's graveyard is full of an interesting variety of ghosts from the different eras during which people were still buried in the cemetery (which, at the time of the book, had long since been closed and turned into a nature preserve), ranging from a Roman ghost to various Victorian-era children who become Bod's playmates. These secondary characters are mostly sketchy, but still enjoyable. The book is too brief to really develop any of the characters in depth, another reason why I don't read a lot of kids books.

The Graveyard Book is dark in tone, but whimsically so, much like the movie Coraline (and the book, too, I'm assuming. I just haven't read it). Some kids may be scared by it, but I think that most parents are probably a good enough judge of their children to know ahead of time whether they'll like a book full of ghosts. There are some intense moments in it, but nothing too bad. I think it's the perfect read for a fledgling Goth.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Gaiman was heavily influenced by Kipling's Jungle Book when he wrote this. Unfortunately, I had a deprived childhood and never read that book. I've only seen the animated Disney movie, and I'm sure that's not much of a comparison (hey, I have read the original Little Mermaid and that isn't anything like the Disney movie. Don't even get me started on the original versions of Snow White or Cinderella).

I'm currently working my way through Halting State by Charles Stross, so expect another book review soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: Twice a Hero

Back when I was complaining about how much I hated Seize the Night, it was suggested to me that I read some Susan Krinard before I totally write off paranormal romances as utter twaddle. I took this recommendation with a small grain of salt, as it was coming from Susan Krinard's own husband, and I know that husbands often think that their wives are great writers (mine still maintains that the short novel I wrote at age 14 is awesome, whereas I know that it is garbage). Nonetheless, I felt that I should give Susan a fair chance, so I looked for her at the used bookstore* and found that they did not have Kinsman's Oath, which was recommended to me, but they did have a bunch of her books. I chose Twice a Hero, because it had time travel, and most of the others were about werewolves. Now, I don't hate werewolves the way I hate vampires, but I do love a good time travel story, so it was an easy decision.

The good news is that Twice a Hero avoids a lot of the problems that I've had with previous romance novels. I didn't feel like the author was ramming home to me that the leading man was "ohmygawd, the sexiest thing on the face of the planet." The description of his handsomeness was succinct and relatively objective, describing his features and allowing me to decide if that was what flipped my cookie. There was no "hot sexual chocolate" or "long, flowing hair." He read to me as ruggedly but believably handsome.

Likewise, the leading lady believes herself to be plain and unattractive, and describes herself in such a way that we can see how she feels that way, but when we see her through the eyes of the male lead, we can understand how and why he finds her traits attractive. It's not a case of a drop-dead gorgeous woman who believes herself plain, it's a case of a non-standard beauty and a man who finds that she's the sort of woman who revs his engine, so to speak.

And perhaps most importantly, the love scenes were sexy without being ridiculous, and were not the main thrust (if you'll forgive the pun) of the story. The romance is believably interwoven into a tale of being misplaced in time, along with a love quadrangle and a bit of intrigue, all set in the backdrop of 1880s Guatemala and San Francisco. I didn't feel like the story simply served as a way to get the characters from sexy scene A to sexy scene B. It served to introduce the characters, put them in trying and sometimes steamy situations, occasionally pulling them apart to bring them together again.

I'm not an expert on 1880s San Francisco, where most of the book takes place, but the story felt well-researched, and the characters felt authentic to their time. Almost too authentic, in the case of the male lead. Typically chauvenstic, I found him to be abrasive and really questioned whether he'd ever be able to adapt to living the rest of his life with a headstrong woman of the 90s (this book being set in the year it was published, 1997). I often have this problem with romantic stories about people from different times (whether it involves time travel, or centuries-old vampires). It's hard for me to believe that once the initial glow of passion subsides, that the vast gulf of eras will be so easy to bridge.

And really, that's my main complaint with Twice a Hero. I loved watching the clashing personalities of the two characters, as they traded barbed comments frequently throughout the book. And I found their attraction natural and believable (I also appreciated that their courtship spanned a month or more, rather than mere days). But I couldn't see them having a viable, long-term relationship. I also frequently found myself off-put by the leading man's condescending and at times almost abusive attitude towards the leading lady, not to mention his habit of turning to the bottle when he was upset.

Over all, the writing was good and relatively error-free. There was the occasional metaphor that I felt was over-the-top, but there was no throbbing manhood or burning groins or anything else laughably bad. The plot moved along at a believable pace, the secondary characters were believable and likeable, and the things that I thought were going to turn into stupid misunderstandings to tear the characters apart were actually usually handled in a reasonable manner.

Unfortunately, this felt like more of a gateway fantasy romance than a full-blown one. It was heavy on the romance and light on the fantasy, with only a possible family curse and the time travel to differentiate it from a standard romance novel. Perhaps I would have been better off with the werewolves in that regard. I'll probably pick up another of this author's books, one that looks to be more fantasy-heavy, and see if it has a less off-putting male lead. If so, they could definitely be a good guilty-pleasure read.

In the meantime, if you'd like to see some hilariously bad romance writing, worse even than anything in Seize the Night, click here. It has NSFW language, and may cause you to bust out laughing. Don't say I didn't warn you.

*Having learned how little authors get per book sold, I usually try to buy books new these days, to support the people who provide so much of my entertainment... but when it's a new-to-me author, I do prefer to hit the used bookstore, so I'm not out seven bucks if it's not any good.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Flight collection of graphic novels

I've been pretty scatter-brained and busy lately, and when I feel this scattered, I find that I can't focus on writing or reading anything of any length. This is a good time for graphic novels! Reading them, obviously, not writing them. I gave up on writing comics back when I was a teen.

Flight is a serious of graphic anthologies that my husband likes to pick up, and that I sometimes read. They're edited by Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the on-line comic Copper. Chris is a big fan of aforementioned comic, and discovered in via the links section of another favorite comic, xkcd. At Comic Con, we met Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd, and Chris was complaining about Copper never updating, and Mr. Munroe said "That's because Kazu has been working on Flight, and he's standing at the booth right behind you." Chris then squeeled like a fan girl*, turned around, and bought Volume 1 of Flight, getting it signed by Kazu and the other creators who were in the booth at the time, a process that took probably about 10 minutes of the book getting passed from artist to artist. It was a big, crowded booth.

Anyway, rambling story of how we discovered Flight aside, it's a neat little series. Each sizable volume is packed with an assortment of stories by various authors and artists. Some you may have heard of, most you probably haven't. Each one seems to have a vague theme, but the stories still remain unique and different from each other. It's a something for everyone sort of anthology. There's action stories, funny stories, kids stories, romances, real life stories, fantasy, sci-fi, dreamscapes, talking animals, mythology, not to mention dozens of different art styles.

In each volume, you'll probably find a few stories that stand out as great in your mind, some that you don't really get the appeal of, and a bunch that are neither good nor bad. In my experience, even when I'm not into a story, I can really enjoy seeing how the artist interprets the story, and admire the different art and narrative styles on display.

Flight anthologies tend to run $25 in the US, a good price for such a sizable graphic novel. They can usually be found in the graphic novel department of your local bookstore, if you don't patronize comic book shops.

*This is a little something that I like to call revisionist history, and it will also let me know when Chris sees this blog post.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Watchmen, and stacks of books

It's about time that I revived this blog, don't you think?

I haven't been writing lately, but I have been reading. My in-laws came to visit, and not only did they come bearing Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (squee!), but we went to two bookstores during their three-day visit. You know that two bookstore visits mean a lot of new books. I have two stacks of new reading material on my dining room table, although half of that is science books for my husband, and one is a cookbook (50 recipes using green tea, how could I resist?).

One of the things that we picked up, in anticipation of the movie's release next month, was The Watchmen. I decided to read that first out of everything I had, as I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I just didn't get it.

Ok, I take that back. In some ways, I did get it. I can see how the concept of a grim story, featuring heroes who were deeply flawed and not always heroic, was a groundbreaking idea when it was written in the 1980s, and has since been widely imitated. And I liked how the story explored an alternate history, where the actions of the characters had greatly changed the course of events from what we've all grown up with.

My problem with The Watchmen is that the characters are so flawed as to be unlikeable. Yes, it can be argued that in some cases, they were drawn to a life of vigilantism because of their flaws, and that in other cases, their mental issues were either caused or worsened by the things they did and saw... but it could also be argued that any of them could have been seeking professional help instead of ruining the lives around them with their issues. I couldn't find one character to identify with, and I rarely sympathized with them.

Sometimes, as with China Mieville's Bas-Lag trilogy, I can overlook flawed, unlikeable characters, and still immerse myself in a truly good story or fascinating world. And Watchmen drew me in, but when I finally left its world, I didn't feel like I was improved by my time there. I felt disgusted and disappointed by the characters, the ending, and how the one person who tried to do the right thing ended up punished for it.

I'm still going to see the movie, of course, but I may end up being there more for the visual effects than the story, and to see how much they've changed it (aside from giving Silk Spectre a tight leather-looking outfit, as opposed to the weird oh-so 70s/80s one she had in the comic).

Soon, I'll post the rest of my reading list.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Victorian Immersion

Well, hello there. I'm now not only using this blog for procrastination, but also for occupying myself when I have insomnia. I should have gone to bed 30-60 minutes ago but I am so awake that it's not even funny. I am beginning to doubt the claims that this white tea has 1% of the caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Anyway, I've been rather busy, too busy to write, which is very distressing. I often find myself doubting my ability to be a real author when this happens. How am I ever going to adhere to a deadline when I can go weeks or even months without touching my book? I suppose if I was getting paid to write, then I would clear things out of my schedule to make more time (I've already decided that if I ever get a publishing deal, I'll all but close down my jewelry business), but still. I think that I should write as if I did already have a contract. That should be a goal for the new year.

But as you may have guessed from the title, that is not what I intended this post to be about. No, this post is about researching the Victorian era. Why? Because I like it. Because I'm a wannabe steampunk. And because one of my holiday gifts to my husband is a Victorian steampunk roleplaying campaign. Much like a book, a campaign needs to be well-researched. Especially when the research is into a subject I enjoy, such as the Victorian era.

Rather fortuitously, one of my holiday gifts from my brother was a copy of the book Our Deportment, an 1880s guide to etiquette. Let me clarify: a 125 year old book on etiquette. Not a reprinting, but a book that is almost five times as old as me. Reading this beautiful book has been a large chunk of my research so far. It's fascinating to see what has changed about manners in the intervening years, and what remains the same.

Other research has involved reading up on 1880s fashion on Wikipedia. Now, if this research was for a book, I wouldn't rely so heavily on Wikipedia, but for something as casual as a game, I'm not too worried about extreme reliability. This was probably my favorite bit of research, as I love Victorian-era clothing. It's entirely impractical (especially in Tucson) and I think I would die if I tried to corset myself into wasp-waistedness (slender though I may be), but their dresses were so beautiful.

And then there's the fiction. For the past few weeks, I've been working my way through Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon. It's the first story in a Barnes and Noble-published collection of his works. I have a similar collection of HG Wells' work. I figure that reading the two of them will help me establish an authentic steampunk feel, and besides, it's really about time that I get around to reading some classic genre fiction.

I finished Five Weeks last night, and I have to say that my opinion is rather divided. On the positive side, it's easy to be drawn in by the daring hero, his stalwart companions, and the sense of wonder about the unexplored portions of the world (even though now, a century and a half later, they're quite explored). Likewise, I love the language that Victorian authors like Verne used, words and turns of phrases that would seem too antiquated or formal in a modern story, and yet, they're so enjoyable (side note: when I first shared the first novel of my series with my writing class, I got dinged for antiquated and formal turns of phrase, even though I wasn't then in the habit of reading Victorian authors).

And yet... it's hard to accept the rampant racism inherent in an 1800s story about a trip across Africa. The ethnic slurs, the condescending tone, the commonly held truths that have since been debunked. I know it was the attitude of the day, but I can't help but expect better of authors and intellectuals. On a less uncomfortable note, there are aspects of the Victorian writing style that I don't enjoy -- the author holds the reader at a distance from the characters. So many times, I wanted to be inside the head of Dr. Ferguson or one of his companions, to truly get their reaction to the wondrous or frightful things they were going through. It was hard to be engaged when the characters were at an arm's length from me, and the many difficulties they encountered were often solved in a matter of paragraphs.

I'm going to read another story or two before I pass complete judgement on Jules Verne. After all, I believe Five Weeks was his first published work, and it's not one that you often hear mentioned, so perhaps his other, more famous stories will prove more engaging.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Infamous Book Review

And now, for your reading pleasure, my review of Seize the Night.

Also in this month's issue of Collector Times, my husband Chris Reid has written Chapter 3 of the League of Explorers round robin story. I did some editing work on the chapter, as Chris hasn't written fiction in a few years and wanted me to go over it before he sent it to our editor.

I've been caught up in renovating our game room and getting our house ready for today's dinner and gift exchange with my family, so I've done no writing lately. So much for not losing all of the momentum that I built up on Christmas.