Sunday, December 31, 2006

post-Jacobean interlude

Reminder that the Viable Paradise diary is not current, just in case anyone came in partway through and is confused. The interruptions and intervals are present-day. Thank you.

Currently, The Willow Knot stands at 56k, which doesn't mean all that much but is something to tell people when they ask how it's going. I figure the story breaks roughly into three parts, probably not of equal length:
I. Leaving Midame's house, Tyl's transformation, and accepting the forest.
II. Surviving in the forest, growing up, learning what they lost, up to the arrival of Alard.
III. Surviving in the court, learning to be wife and queen, attacks on Myl and Alard, semi-happy ending.

The middle part is the one that really interests me. "For some time they were alone like this in the wilderness." When I talk about the book, people often expect me to skim over that part, to get to the court again, where things happen. But if they consider some of the difficulties--how does Myl clothe herself, what can she eat if she believes that other animals in the forest may be Christian souls enchanted into beast form, what else is in the forest that might be dangerous--usually they become interested as well.
The appeal of a Robinson Crusoe or My Side of the Mountain story is pretty sturdy. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King, and Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, very different stories, both use the survival of a girl in the wilderness.
Plus, I'm Canadian, so it's practically my patriotic duty (if west-coast Canadians could say that sort of thing without blushing) to write about Survival. Just ask Margaret Atwood.

Writing the middle also gives me a chance to develop the knotting / weaving / braiding / netting motif that's the unexpected bones of the story. I've just done a first draft of Myl repairing the thatch on the cottage after a winter gale has torn off much of her first, inexpert repairs, and from the writing hindbrain came a thatcher's luck-piece of braided straw, meant to keep the work strong, like the ritual marks carved on certain beams in old timber houses. I don't know whether such a thing was done (and it very likely wasn't recorded, if it was) but it fits. Myl has to fix the damaged luck-piece, and that makes her more consciously aware of her early training.
I'm not sure where this theme is going, quite, but it's a happy thing thus far. Now I think I'll go and poke through English Folk-rhymes for some potential charms.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Viable Paradise, day one

Sunday...very tired.
Have two manuscripts to read and crit before sleeping. Managed to nap a fair amount in the airport, on the plane, and on the bus. After arriving at Boston I had my usual panicky time assuring myself that the bus stop right outside International was indeed the correct bus stop, but after asking three bus drivers in succession about getting to Woods Hole I felt somewhat calmer.
When the Peter Pan / Bonanza bus rolled up I saw that I shouldn't have worried, as they are completely unmistakable, painted with scenes of Peter and the Lost Boys frolicking about. Each has a name, also. Ours was Fly Away Home, and others were Wolves and Crocodiles, Peter's Promise, and Home Again. But, gentle reader, you note that I have said 'ours'. I was carrying my Making Light totebag with the list of auctorial insanities, and it was recognised. Evelyn Browne, my roomie-to-be was on the bus already, and so was Chris Miller (online Chris Azure). So we bunched up--the bus was nearly empty--and spent a little time swapping nervousness and excitement.
I slept through most of the bus trip (fortunately Woods Hole was the last stop) prying my eyelids up occasionally to notice sun-spattered leaves and much general greenness. So my opinion of Mass. so far is that it's sunny and green.
The ferry terminal is about the size of the Saltspring/Fulford terminal, but less organised. It was all very sunny and bright. The lack of sleep made me feel like an overexposed photograph, bleached to sepia shadows (there's probably a Photoshop filter that does that). At the ferry terminal I noticed a woman with an English accent and wondered if it was Lucia, but felt a bit funny about asking just on that basis. It turned out that yes, it was, and the second redhead was Retterson. Evelyn spotted two (three?) more, but the only name I remember right now was Evan Goer, no, wait, John Chu as well. And we formed a clump disembarking, though somehow I ended up in front, possibly from many many years of riding ferries. I were riding the ferries afore some of ye were born, aaarrrhhh.
We were met, by one of the staff (a burly fellow with a van, probably Bill--thanks Jennifer!) holding a VP sign, and followed him like Robert McCloskey ducklings across the street. He gave us a brief travelogue while driving to the Inn. Martha's Vineyard is insanely picturesque. I managed to stay awake, probably because it's a very short drive. I could have walked it, though it would have been a pain with the bags.
The Island Inn is very nice and the townhouse is huge. Mur Lafferty's got the upstairs bedroom, which is reached by a skinny spiral staircase, all treads and wire struts. Not what one would want to ascend while inebriated. I wonder how the maids manage, because it doesn't look like fun to haul anything large up or down. Evelyn and I have the downstairs double bedroom, which is again roomy, none of this turning sideways to squeeze between the beds. It has a long hallway/closet that leads to the passthrough for linens, so I imagine the maids have an easier time of it downstairs.
The sitting room is a storey and a half high, wooden plank ceiling, plastered walls and french doors leading onto the verandah/porch. There's a tv and a sound system that I suspect will be untouched. And a small but complete kitchen, though Mur has determined that there are no baking sheets, which limits the usefulness of the oven. Maybe I'll pick some up if I go shopping again.
The view from the porch reminds me, oddly, of Suffolk. Flat, hedges, trees, green. I started thinking of Mary and Griffin and Jem again. Or Tom, trudging along the edge of the fens in The Astrologer's Death.
Almost immediately after signing in (and Evelyn cleverly thinking of picking up the highspeed internet connection thingy right then, before the office closed - turned out it was the last one) we were off again on a shopping run with Jen Pelland. Me, Evelyn, Bart and John Chu. I had to borrow $10 from Evelyn on discovering that my US$ stash was still in my laptop bag. Remember to pay this back!
Mur arrived after we got back and then she went off shopping. We asked her to pick up a sponge for washing (Erin having let us know that there were only paper towels, and both of us having forgotten that.)
Meet and Greet. Dinner was hamburgers, meat or veg.
We got portfolios with info in them (mine is blue) and printouts of the stories we'll be group-critting as well as our own. I must read those tonight and make notes. In the folder is a how-to sheet which is pretty much the Clarion style used at VCon. I can probably do it if I limit my comments to that and don't run on and on.
But then we played Thing (which I kind of enjoyed)--though our group was at one point reduced to spinning the bottle to pick Things--and Mafia (which I couldn't get a handle on at all). TNH was accused early on of being Mafia and staged quite the flounce, which made me sympathetic yet suspicious--on the other hand, it seemed likely to be a more entertaining game with her in than out, and the value of 'winning' was unclear, so I voted to let her live, as did most others. I can see where the games do get one acquainted with the other students, and I have a handle on a few of them now. The Mafia circle was everyone, so it was harder to keep track of name/face connections, but more were covered at once.
I wish I were one of those personable people who remember names easily. Good thing we all have nametags.

I've begged off the last game so I can get the crits done, so I'll stop this instalment now (though I may fill in gaps later) and go do that.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Legally required cute cat picture

This is Priscilla (Queen of the Desert/Temperate Rainforest). She appears to be meditating on her sins in front of the Christmas tree, but appearances are deceiving. It is the Christmas tree behind her, though. And a fake stained-glass window I made with muslin and tempera paints.
Priss was virtuous enough not to play with the ornaments or the creche figures, but she did go for the rollie-Dalek toy that someone added to the creche scene. Very discerning of her.

Viable Paradise, day zero

Saturday night, airport. Today was the workshop and the Barbara Hambly reading. Then off to the airport in a rush so that I can wait for hours. During which time my laptop battery will run out, but I'll probably want to nap anyways.

Hambly reading was good--she reads very much the way M-- does. The reading was from her new book, Renfield. Some icky and harsh elements, handled effectively (would I expect anything else?) More bad news about books: she has a 3d TWHTN/TWTD book, but unless Renfield sells well, it won't go to press. Benjamin January series is on hiatus. No immediate big historicals. She asked an editor what they were specifically looking for, and was told 'Buffy knock-offs' so she's written one called Spider Season, with a 20ish kick-ass heroine, first-person, whose voice is completely new to her and whom she's enjoying tremendously. Afterwards I went off to buy a copy of Renfield as my contribution to her continuing career. Daniel, I think, was going to all the panels with B Hambly in them, and possibly to no others.

Writing workshop, a bit hard to find until I spotted (Mighty Hunter!) a neon-pink one-sheet with an arrow and the room and elevator number. I'm not a huge fan of buildings that have to number their elevators because not all of them go to all floors (there's a joke there, but never mind.)
The dragon story went first, then the spy/assassin one, then me, then the cats.
Mine and the cats (Randy) got the most positive responses. Everyone liked it, but no one much liked the pronoun thing with the Cupbearer, so we had some discussion about how to handle a double-gendered character, which didn't come up with anything brilliant, but at least no one wanted me to change him/her.
There was also some question as to who the story was about, and Randy suggested that to have the story be about Valen, the last scene could go, and we'd just see how the downfall of the gods was laid. One had a problem keeping track of the gods (you'd think giving them function-names would make it easier, but maybe not) and two kept trying to match them up with the Greek gods (though only one found it distracting from the story) but a very interesting suggestion was made that they be made less clearly like the Greco-Roman gods and more exotic/generic right off, especially changing the Messenger. I'm thinking that in the context of the story he might as well be named the Meddler. He could still have wings. Valen was not seen as passive, which was one of my fears. There were mixed feelings about having him lose--suggestions about him winning somehow--but I suspect that was more because of people liking him and not wanting him to go down than a real need for restructuring.
The discussion for the others was useful in some ways. My crits seemed to hit many of the same (though not all) points that the others did. The assassin title was about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, so I was right, there. And everyone thought the dragon story needed trimming, but that the dragon-sorceresses themselves were cool.
One of the pros (De Muelemeester) asked to be remembered to Emily Mah Tippetts, and the author of the spy story sent greetings to Jim Macdonald and Debra Doyle, being a previous VP alumna.

Mark and I went for dinner with Devon and Betty and a couple of other people, at the hotel's pub. Food was okay, not particularly memorable. Mark and Devon and Betty shared gossip about swordsmen and dancers (more intersection than I would have guessed) which was entertaining.
Mark drove me to the airport, taking the route recommended by one of the hotel staff. My usual fussing over lateness for anything that will leave without me kicked in, and I charged into the airport with my bags draped most untidily over me. Not that it mattered, since I had to haul out the laptop etc. and repack anyways.
And here I am. Usually I prepare myself by imagining situations and what I might do to cope with them, but I don't seem able to do that for VP. Not even scenarios where I am stunningly brilliant and impress everyone in a Mary-Suvian fashion. Come to think of it, I've never been good at those anyways.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Viable Paradise, sudden realisation

Not a new diary post, but an insight! I've fussed on and off about what makes an applicant acceptable to Viable Paradise, and I think I've figured it out, fueled by two glasses of ginger wine (mmmm, ginger).
A successful VP applicant is in the top 10% of the slushpile. While unproven, this theory fits well enough to leave my mind at ease.

In other news, I'm just able to type again, after bunging up my hand making four batches of shortbread (double batch of plain Scots shortbread, one cheese and one chocolate). Apparently the tendons in the hand don't like doing that all in one night. But I prefer to blame my calculator at work, which requires the buttons to be pushed by the eraser-end of a pencil, and even then the 4 and the 0 don't always work. And having to get the Visa statement done before leaving for Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Boxing Day to those who observe it, whether by shopping or by giving gift-boxes to the tradesmen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Viable Paradise diary, day minus one

Just a reminder that this diary is not current. It relates events from early October, at the Viable Paradise workshop. For the sake of immediacy, I have done little editing.

Friday night. Back at Kate's with everyone else, everyone being Kate, Mac, Daniel and Mark. The Master Classes were overall good. I bussed out to the Executive Airport Plaza Hotel (is a more generic name possible?) with the help of helpful bus drivers (my usual means of transport being helpful people) and got to the hotel way too early--which was okay. After chatting with a remarkably boring oldtime VConner, I followed people I recognised (who seemed to recognise me) to Hospitality where I discovered that my name-tag etc. were among the 9 not-yet-arrived nametags etc. So I made myself useful as directed, making coffee with a coffeemaker I wasn't familiar with (Bodums are so simple, but don't hold nearly as much) and was saved from making Turkish-level coffee by kind advice about how to gauge the amount in the filter. Also set up a garbage bag pro-tem.
I spotted Alma Alexander, who looks just like her programme photo, but not Barbara Hambly, who has cut her hair since the programme picture. She is small, perhaps a little shorter than me and thinner, rather bird-like, with a pointed nose and bright searching eyes. Her hair stands out in frizzy curls. I didn't see Serena arrive, and my attempt to hold a chair for her failed, though we did connect at the break.
Hambly gave the keynote lecture, which was to prepare yourself for not making a lot of money. She's going back into college teaching, because she has neither a day-job nor a spouse to support her. Writing has its rewards, but easy cash is not one of them. Writing, communicating an idea or experience, is a great joy, and find that joy, which will sustain you.
Matt Hughes talked about scenes, and how each scene has a purpose, how it advances the story. First he discussed the difference between narrative (telling) and showing by means of scenes--including close pov, sensory detail, time dilation, emotional responses. He gave out two examples of the same piece of action, one as half-page narrative, the other as three-page scene-showing. I was irresistably reminded of the foreword to Varney the Vampire where the writer turns a three-line action into a full instalment of the serial by stuffing it full of adjectives and description. Gene, the fellow sitting next to me, rather missed the point by saying that he didn't think much of either excerpt. And since Gene is deaf-ish and speaks with a booming voice, his whisper wasn't much of a whisper. It's very clear that Hughes was a professional speech-writer; his talk was organised and clear. He's a big, broad guy with short white hair, you'd think of him as perhaps a pro golfer, not 'the literary heir to Jack Vance' an attribution he's proud of. The story of his that I read in F&SF is definitely Vancean.
Barbara Hambly discussed setting, the setting as a character, the setting as determining character and determining actions. The novel of Stagecoach was used as an example - the setting of a stagecoach in that time and place constrains what is possible for the characters in that setting. Amusing anecdote about writing Travelling With the Dead - she wrote a gripping scene of flight and pursuit through the alleys of Vienna, but on visiting, discovered that Vienna has no alleys. And thanked god that the mss hadn't been delivered yet. Advocate of visiting the scene. Gave us a writing exercise: a superior of some sort sitting down, a subordinate enters and says they have a problem, superior says don't tell me it's and subordinate says, no, it's worse, it's . Within this frame, the setting should become clear. Those who could not think of settings could have random cards with places and dates. I figured a Victorian kitchen parlour and the housekeeper and a scullery-maid. Mine was not one of those read out; for some reason the first choices were a run of ships of various kinds, but one was set in Hell and quite funny. Serena's was set in a frontier brothel (random card) and was quite good, lovely sweaty sensory detail. I think she should develop it into a story.
Alma Alexander's talk was on character, and wasn't as clear or organised as the others. She also seems a bit tightly wound. I don't know that I'd want to take a course from her (don't know if she does teach). I didn't have trouble hearing her, but others did. She's a character-channeler, and believes in talking to them and bringing them out gently. I guess that's where I am, since I don't do the character-sheets except for fun, but it felt kind of woo-woo. Oh yeah, and story arises from character, which is kind of true. Another writing exercise, this one to write a series of questions you might ask your character, five vital and five general, then to swap those questions with someone else. The idea being to explore aspects of your character that you wouldn't normally consider. It worked well enough for me, but I gather some people were very specific about the general questions, making them inapplicable to random fantasy characters.
Hung out with Serena during the lunch break, and caught up. I told her about the hard-drive wierdness, and everything converting to rtfs and she said she could send hers again, so I may get her to do that after I get a new hard-drive. And reinstall Word. Gah. She's doing pretty well, sharing a room with the Walshes for the con, and asked me to come to the Hobbit Country Dance workshop on Saturday. Apparently I haven't sent her any of my stuff since 'Spellcheck', so I'll deal with that when I get back, if the computer's working.
We were fed a self-assemble burrito, tea and coffee, all reasonably okay, and the afternoon break was chocolate, though I didn't have any. I spoke to Barbara Hambly and told her of Anne's wish to kiss her feet, and that I metaphorically kissed her feet for Anne. She was pleased and said to thank her. Accidentally got my picture taken with Matt Hughes and said I'd enjoyed his story in F&SF, and we talked about the Vancean stuff. He's got a bad back since a car accident some time ago, and was on muscle relaxants. Serena took my picture with Barbara Hambly. Serena also chatted with Barbara about chronic fatigue, which Hambly may have, and some things (food avoidances etc) Serena has found useful for dealing with it, and took Hambly's email for sending info to.
Went for a drink with Serena after the classes, our brains being full, and talked about writing. She bought me an Irish coffee (I'm broke until I hit the States) and had soup, and we yattered until Mark and Daniel showed up, followed (after Mark parked the van) by MC. I split dinner with Mark and MC, which was just as well, as there was just too much food. The service was kind of inefficient--I don't think the server spoke much English.
Back to Kate's fairly early, so that we can make decent time tomorrow morning.
Hobbit Country Dance tomorrow, and the Clarion-style workshop. First time critting in person. Oh, ran into Randy (who wrote the talking cats story) at the Master Classes, and he said mine was the one he most enjoyed of the workshop stories, which was nice because reciprocal. I liked his best.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


An interruption in the diary, zipping back to the present day. One of the things discussed at Viable Paradise was villains, how a villain (like every other character) believes him/herself to be the hero of the piece, and his/her actions to be justified, even praiseworthy.
I'm retelling a fairy-tale, and fairy-tale motivation is not novel-character motivation. Okay, no problem, I do understand my villain, Midame, and I know why she does what she does.
The difficulty is in conveying that to the reader, because I never write from her viewpoint, and much of the story is spent away from her. She's seen only in memories, and when she does appear, she's disguised, and the protagonist doesn't recognise her.
So how does the reader ever understand her actions? I was so bothered by this I was beginning to sympathise with the Bond villains and their fondness for explaining their plots to the imprisoned hero.
But I think I have it now. And if I do it right, the reader will only later put it together, and it won't be an info-dump. This is how it might work--Midame is disguised as a kind woman who's taken a disabled girl under her wing, and she and my heroine talk about foster-mothers, touching on some of what went wrong between my heroine and her aunt-guardian (Midame). The woman does not attempt to defend Midame, on the contrary, she sympathises with Myl. But what she says about her own care for her foster-daughter, and how the girl has repaid her with loyalty is aimed at contrasting that with Myl's lack of gratitude towards her aunt.
It'll take work and revision, and it needs to be brief, but I'm happy with the idea. Woo!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Viable Paradise diary, day minus two

NOTE: This is a diary that was kept from Oct 5-14/06, here first made public. It is not happening in this present now.

Viable Paradise diary.
or: my writing sucks! in ways that can be fixed!

Thursday night. I'm on the ferry to Vancouver, having been rushed off by Mark with pizza still in my mouth and my wine poured into a travel mug. I have the following:
1 small sports bag, containing clothes, toiletries, snacks, books, etc. for VP
1 laptop bag, containing laptop, backup diskets, books & itinerary
1 large tote, containing clothes, books, mss. etc. for Master Classes & workshop
1 backpack, containing my usual backpack stuff - this all to be repacked or left.
1 shopping bag, containing frozen muffins, cookies and a piece of chocolate cake (described as 'brownie-like, too dry' by those who've had some).
I hope Mark remembers to bring my other shoes, as well as the sandwich fixings. If I could get down to Chinatown and pick up some pork buns that would be great, but it doesn't seem likely. However, the hotel is near the airport, so I shall be properly grateful for that.

I didn't say a virtual goodbye to the ABE furtive scribblers. Perhaps I'll be able to go online and catch up sometime in this week. Kate's internet access sounds a bit dicey, and I know the Inn's access is questionable. So we'll see.
Not so worried about saying goodbye on AW, since a fair chunk of it will be at VP. Not Aconite, but she's not on AW either. Alas. But I'll keep what records I can for those who can't attend.

Paul dropped by to catch me with a goodbye and good wishes. I am to tell PNH and TNH that he is not really a dogmatic Foucault-freak. (This in reference to a thread on Making Light which I haven't read). I thanked him for making VP possible, which is quite true. I never would have applied, if the travel costs hadn't been taken care of. I wish he were coming. Partly because seeing him and PNH butt heads could be marvelously entertaining.
On one level I understand that when he can make thousands for writing code, there's not a huge incentive to write fiction that at most would be a few hundred. And Paul is very practical--hard-headed Frenchman. But I have to wonder if there isn't some fear of success, because if he turned out to be good at it, wouldn't he have to do something with that talent?
M-- dropped off an envelope which I'm to open on the plane. The subject of the Master Classes has been carefully not mentioned between us since I first sent her the info (and one update) to which she didn't reply. I suppose she's protecting herself from information again - she can mention VP because there's no suggestion that she would want to apply, since it's far away, expensive, and genre-specific. But the Master Classes, which are nearby, inexpensive, and taught (in part) by someone she claims to venerate--harder to excuse herself from attending. I sent her the programming and autograph session schedule, and she didn't reply to that, either, which feels to me like her avoidance behaviour. Again I have to wonder about fear of success--one can hardly fail during a series of lectures, after all. Is she afraid of taking her writing seriously enough to try to improve it? Is she lumping all workshops and classes into the category of I--'s dysfunctional writers' group?
For me, I'm feeling that this is what I need. I've said/written to a couple of people that I feel becalmed, or plateaued. I can put my work up on AW or OWW, and I do get some useful crits, but it's almost all tweaking. Cathy's questions are the most useful, really (doesn't anybody wonder about the propriety of Tom and Nan?) pushing me to fill in aspects I'd brushed aside. I should tell her that when I'm online again. Leo's also been good, pointing out when I labour a point. (Has he posted recently? I haven't looked.) But I feel that much of the rest is what I could do myself--am doing myself, now that I have practice.
I'm at the point where I'm not obviously doing things wrong. On the face it's okay. But sometimes I wonder if it's not facile, an unthinking facility with language masking an emptiness at the heart. How do I tell?
I want the next level. I'm not ready for the last boss yet. But I bet the boss of this level is really wimpy.

So, this is what lies ahead:
1 day of lectures by Barbara Hambly, Matt Hughes and Alma Alexander, including two assignments.
1 three-hour workshop with Rhea Rose, Linda DeMeulemeester and three other students.
9 hours on a plane, about 3 hours on bus and ferry
5 days of lectures, crit groups and exercises with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, James Macdonald, Debra Doyle, Stephen Gould, Laura Mixon and Cory Doctorow
3 hrs on bus&ferry, 9 hrs on a plane
1 day of collapse
Return to normality. Or normalcy. I'm not sure what the difference is.

I really really want a one-on-one with TNH, though reason tells me that this is my inner fangirl coming to the fore. She does line-crit, and I think my copy is pretty clean on that level. My shortcomings are more likely to be big-picture, as well as invisible to me. Of course, it's possible that I'll be in need of reassurance that I can do something right, after a few days of having my work pulled apart. On the other hand, it would be very useful to get the opinion of someone at a professional editing level whether my own line-editing is satisfactory. It's one thing to know I'm not making egregious errors. It's another to know whether I'm doing well.
Must remember how important it is to go into a judging session with the right attitude. The judges are here to help me. They want me to improve and to continue to improve. My work is not perfect, and if I don't learn to see where it falls short, it won't ever become perfect. Not everything I hear will be helpful, but if even half of it is (and I would expect more than a 50% rate from the pros) I will have guidance that I didn't have before.
Remember the story of the cup of tea. If I don't empty my cup first, how can I taste the master's tea? This is particularly relevant since I've picked up the Frey book How to Write Damn Good Fiction, because I'm going to be tempted to relate everything to his lessons. I suspect that many of the same principles will be involved, in slightly different words.

More later.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Viable Paradise diary, prelude

Back in January, our friend Paul challenged me to apply to the Viable Paradise workshop. I'd been lusting after it for some time, but the travel costs, (it happens on a small island on the East Coast, and I'm on a small island on the West Coast) effectively doubling the otherwise-quite-reasonable cost of the workshop, had placed it in the unattainable lust object category. Paul dared me to apply, saying that he'd cover the airfare if I was accepted.
This was at his New Year's party, so alcohol may have been a factor as well as his vast heap of Frequent Flyer miles. But even the next day he kept the offer open, to my surprise and gratitude.
I dithered. I dithered about whether to submit the first chapters of The Willow Knot, or the first chapter of The Astrologer's Death. Or all of "The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter". I wrote two separate application letters and made up two packets. In the end I chose The Willow Knot, because the language is less difficult. While I suspected that the instructors wouldn't blink particularly at my version of Stuart English, I was dubious about the other students' reactions, based on my experiences in OWW. (To be fair, several OWWers have not only read The Astrologer's Death without difficulty but have given me useful feedback on where I've sacrificed clarity to archaism.)
I sent my application off in mid-January, and got on with writing to keep myself from twitching really noticeably.
In July I got the news that I'd been accepted, along with 27 other students, four more than usual. In the meantime, VCon, the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention, had announced its Guest of Honour, Barbara Hambly, one of my favourite fantasy authors, and announced a date - the same weekend that Viable Paradise began.
Or not quite. Because Viable Paradise begins on the Sunday afternoon, so I could attend the Friday and Saturday of the con. And Friday was a one-day workshop, or lecture series rather, Master Classes in Writing Genre Fiction, with Barbara Hambly being the keynote speaker.
I'm sure, Gentle Reader, that you can imagine how quickly I sent in my application and fees for that. Then, mostly because I had a story of the requisite length (not too short, not too long) I decided to sign up for a session of the regular Clarion-style workshops, so that I'd have some tiny practice in face-to-face critiquing before launching into a week of it.
During the workshops, I kept a ragged diary, which I propose to post over the next few days, filling in the gaps and gray areas enough to be coherent. At the time, so much was going on and my days and brain were so full that much did not get through the keyboard.
More later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Things that are not writing

Blogging is a kind of writing, but I can't really consider it a productive kind of writing. Perhaps a way to work out questions and issues before they go into the narrative. In which case I beg your pardon, Gentle and Hypothetical Reader, for talking to myself in front of you.
Research is not writing, but for me it's a necessary, even vital, prelude to writing. I can't make something up out of whole cloth. I have to have a strong idea what is possible within a particular setting, and I can't know that without research.
Critiquing is not writing, but it may improve one's writing skills, simply because it's much easier to see an error in someone else's work. Then one asks 'Am I doing that too?' The struggle to express an opinion or make a suggestion in a manner both clear and kind is a useful exercise in itself.

The risk with any of these is that they become valuable in themselves, and eat time. Writing time must already be squeezed in here and there between paid work, travelling to and fro, housework, time with family and friends. Every activity that chips away at writing time is a risk.
So it's the old weighing of risks and benefits thing. Keeping up with my online friends, particularly those who are also writers, is important to me and helps me keep my perspective.
Reading Fandom_Wank, on the other hand, is hard to justify on any basis other than snarky entertainment. For a while I read FW after every phone conversation I had with a particular friend, just to cleanse the choked-up snarkiness from my system.

I'm weighing the risks-and-benefits of having a website while being unpublished, you see, and this is me dancing around the question. It would make for something a Hypothetical Agent could look at, which is both a risk and a benefit, ratio depending on the lameness level of the website. Maintaining a website (and they're no more useful unmaintained than they are 'under construction') is another thing that chips away at writing time: a definite risk.
Partly I feel that my setting up a website, as if I were some sort of real writer, is the sort of hubris that merits lightning bolts or divine humiliation in short order.
Then there's registering a domain name. Common wisdom is to register one's own name or writing name. Common wisdom is not named after a popular comic-book heroine, though. I'm sufficiently fussed about that aspect that I've considered choosing a pen-name, even though I quite like my real name and it's at a convenient part of the alphabet, not likely to be shelved close to the floor and inaccessible save to the young and limber. Part of the fear may be due to the trauma of grade 7, when I was greeted regularly by my classmates with a chorus of daduh-daduh-daduh-daduh-BATGIRL!

Thursday, December 7, 2006

et alia

Novels that I am not writing because I am writing The Willow Knot:

The Workings of Blood (isn't that a great title? It isn't mine.) - historical fantasy novel, second in the Regency vampire series written by Mayne and myself, currently in my hands.

The Fate of the Dead
- historical fantasy in the same world, twenty-plus years later, episodic tales of ghost-laying, based on folkloric ghosts in East Anglia.

The Cost of Silver
- historical fantasy in Stuart England, revenants and witch-hunters. The main characters are a fat old woman and an ugly young man, and it ends badly. Not very commercial, I suspect.

Children of Mercury
- historical mystery set in early Renaissance Florence, with a painter as detective. Could be a series, one for each of the planets - the Sun and the Moon count as planets in medieval astrology, by the way.

- modern fantasy, set in a small university town stolen from Victoria and UVic. But, y'know, renamed for safety's sake. Books, libraries and dragons - who needs more?

Short stories waiting while I finish (tentative title) "Milk Run", which is the chimps on blimps story:

"Climbing Boys": baroque sf (if I can sneak it in as an sf story I will) mashing up multiple personality disorder, laying of ghosts, chimney sweeps and a murdered labour agitator. I'm hoping to keep it under 5k.

"Elementary Magic" (title may change): historical fantasy. English court magician comes up against Chinese magic during the Boxer Rebellion, and finds out he's one element short. Aiming at 7k.

"Refuge": fantasy. What happens to heroes, villains and traitors when the saga is over? Probably not over 3k, unless it goes off sideways.

"Firestriker": hah. I have an opening, and I have no idea what comes after it. This is sitting to steep while longer, because I do like the opening. Modern sf if I pull it off.

"Aptitude Test": modern sf. I know what happens in this one, but it needs to be more than a 'reveal' story to work. Needs to steep.

Wonder if I've forgotten any? Probably.
Ideas are easy to come by, and characters aren't hard either. They arise naturally from the situation. But plot is my challenge. Either I come up with barely enough plot to clothe the poor idea decently and hide its shame, or there's so much plot the story swells into a novelet.
Practice will probably help with that. I had a very useful critique on "Fluke" suggesting it had two warring plots and would be better with only one. This is very likely true, but I'm not at all sure I presently have the skills to separate conjoined plots without killing both.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

work in progress

Maybe I should be a bit more specific than 'the book'? The book I'm presently working on is tentatively titled The Willow Knot (63.7% chance of bestsellerdom at the Lulu Titlescorer) and is a retelling of the Grimm tale 11, 'Brother and Sister'. You can read an English translation of the story here, and Sur la Lune's version and notes here.
'Brother and Sister' has been one of my favourites since childhood, more than any of the better-known tales like 'Hansel and Gretel' or 'Sleeping Beauty'. The heart of the story, to me, is this:

And when they had gone a very long way they came at last to a little house, and the girl looked in; and as it was empty, she thought, "We can stay here and live."
Then she sought for leaves and moss to make a soft bed for the roe; and every morning she went out and gathered roots and berries and nuts for herself, and brought tender grass for the roe, who ate out of her hand, and was content and played round about her. In the evening, when the sister was tired, and had said her prayer, she laid her head upon the roebuck's back: that was her pillow, and she slept softly on it.
And if only the brother had had his human form it would have been a delightful life.

'Brother and Sister' hasn't been a hot pick for retelling. In Terri Windling's anthology The Armless Maiden, it inspired a short story and essay by Ellen Steiber and a poem by Windling. Bruno Bettelheim discussed it in The Uses of Enchantment. There are a couple of picture book versions, one of which has a lovely garden scene illustrating the ending where the stepmother-witch is burnt to death. This may create a dilemma for the parent reading out loud, though I don't know whether it would be easier if there were, for instance, a pillar of smoke rising from behind the garden wall.

Retelling a fairy tale poses specific problems. People in fairy tales are like people in ballads. They do not behave in a reasonable fashion. They're allowed to have motivations like 'just plain evil' and 'inhumanly long-suffering'.
People in novels don't get that permission. They have to be believable. Partly this is a feature of length, partly of format. The ballad 'Bonnie Banks of Fordie' (North American version is 'Bonnie Bonnie Banks of the Vergie-o') is only a few verses long, and the listener doesn't usually ask why not one of the three sisters runs away while the banished man is threatening them. Turn that into a short story and in 7,000 words the question will arise.
So I have to consider questions such as why the stepmother (aunt in my version) hates the children, why the young king falls in love with a girl who's been living rough in the forest for years instead of one of the lovely, clean, well-dressed young ladies at court, and what the witch did with the queen's body after suffocating her?
Answering the questions is fun, and helps to bump the wordcount.

Wordcount...I am not a speedy writer. Here's a rough progress of The Willow Knot:
August 05 3,600
September 05 7,400
October 05 11,100
November 05 12,800
December 05 14,000
January 06 17,000
February 06 21,100
April 06 21,700
May 06 22,600
June 06 23,000
July 06 23,300
August 06 24,000
September 06 25,300
October 06 28,600
November 06 35,400
December 06 46,400
I'm aiming for a complete first draft of about 80k, to be hacked down to 75k. So you see I have a way to go if I really think I'm going to have the first draft complete by the end of the year. I'll post my wordcount as I go.

Next time, perhaps I'll talk about my other works in progress, the ones I'm neglecting for the sake of The Willow Knot.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Opening sentences

In a work of fiction, the opening sentences are crucial to catching the reader's attention. In conversation, one tends to begin more gradually, with ums and ahs and questions of no great interest.
A blog looks more like conversation than narrative, so I shan't try too hard to begin with a bang or other startling event. I'm nervous enough as it is, though uncertain may be the better word.

Bibliographic Searcher is my job title, and it seems appropriate for much of what I do at work and at leisure. Searching for books, searching within books, searching for the best way to write a book, all of those endeavours.
I've begun this blog in the month which will see me turn 49, though as significance goes, that's a bit of a stretch. October would have been more relevant, as that was the month I attended the Viable Paradise writing workshop, and returned determined to finish the book. The workshop and the book are probably material for a later post.

A slow opening, I admit. Will Barbara finish her first draft before the end of the year? Will she update her blog, or let it join the flotsam of the internet, washing to and fro forlornly? Will she mess up her rotator cuff yet again while wrapping Christmas presents? Will she ever get back into the critiquing groove? Only her close personal friends are particularly interested in these questions, and even they are selective.