Saturday, June 23, 2007

off to the past

To be absent from the keyboard for the next week, for our annual Living History demo at Fort Rodd Hill. (The photos at the link are from several years back, and the encampment is considerably more elaborate now. But the current photos are on my laptop, and the laptop and the desktop are not speaking to each other. Sigh.)
For the next week, I will be Linot Fitton, painter of the Peynter-Stayners Company of London, one of several artisans gathered for a fair in the year 1371. I will sleep on a featherbed over a straw tick, eat meals cooked over an open fire or in a clay oven, wear linen and wool, and stick my nose right up to whatever I'm working on, because I don't have 14th c. eyeglasses.
Fortunately, the strict interpretation is only required while the park is open to visitors. Once it closes, we can break our roles, and the Norse encampment or Cavalier encampment can mingle with the Plantagenet encampment. And those who wear eyeglasses can see clearly again.
Canada Day is the big day, and for that I expect to be writing children's names--Your Name Written With a Feather--for several hours. Harry Potter has been good for the business of writing with a quill. If it slows down (and during the week, when traffic is less anyways) there may be time to show how to cut a quill and for interested children to get ink on their hands trying one out.
Which pales before the thrill of seeing the guys working with wooden waster swords. That draws a crowd, always. As does the weaver (not the same crowd) and the cooks. "Is that real food? Are you going to eat it?"

The only accessible electricity is a plug in the women's washroom, so the laptop stays home. I will rediscover the joys of writing in a notebook (not tm) with a pen. I won't know what anyone is doing online until July 3d. Try not to get into trouble while I'm gone, okay?

Friday, June 22, 2007

day of mayhem

Well, that is what they called it. "A Day of Mayhem for Readers and Writers". In practice, it was just what you would expect of a literary workshop in the Greater Victoria Public Library, in semi-genteel Victoria BC (former slogan: More British than Britain!)
I arrived early, because it was free and one couldn't reserve a spot. Biked down in the grey morning with a little spitting rain, and locked the bike up in the atrium. Earlier than I'd expected to be, and the doors were still locked. A half-dozen people hovered near the double doors, the sort of sight that reminds me of Romero zombie movies and causes me to keep a cautious distance away. In case.
Lurking behind the concrete planters, I placed mental bets on which of them were also there for the workshop and which just wanted in to the library. I was right in a little over half, which makes me not psychic.
After I'd read a chapter of King Hereafter, by Dorothy Dunnett (and decided that I'd have to treat the political background the way I treat landscape description in John Buchan, by trusting that it all made sense to the author and would work out as needed for the plot without me fussing about it), a whisper went through the courtyard that the workshop could be reached through a side door. And so it proved, though we were warned not to use the bathrooms until the library was officially open.
The meeting room had one wall all of windows, showing the atrium. Fortunately nothing terribly distracting happened out there during the day, and later arrivals had an easy time finding the right room, since they had to walk past it outside, and could see the attentive audience.
I sat between two older ladies (yes, older than me, though I'm not sure the one on my right was very much older) who had been in the same writing group. We talked about writing groups, and they compared the various groups they've been in. I recommended Absolute Write as the best resource I knew for checking out publishers and agents as well as general advice.

First talk was on plotting. Stan Evans is a stocky bald man, very English, of the sort that seems to be constructed entirely of some sort of india-rubber, perhaps the kind they make Pink Pearl erasers from. I could imagine him staunch at any outpost of Empire. Unexpectedly, he writes a Salish detective, Silas Seaweed. His view is that plot is everything. Decide on your plot and work it out before starting. Violent crime tests and proves the sleuth, and he required 'at least one death by criminal action'. Absolute authenticity was required in the setting (his stories are checked over by Salish readers and by anthropologists, as well as heavily researched before writing). He also recommended deciding ahead of time whether to have a continuing detective, and whether you are writing detective or mystery-thriller, because the rules are different.
Bob Scott looked more creased and saggy than he might have, because of being next to Stan Evans, like a comfortable baggy pair of trousers beside an ironed and brushed uniform. He told how he'd started writing. After a diagnosis of cancer, and being told to take it easy, he decided to enter NaNoWriMo, and finished a mystery novel in that month. A while later he took it out of the drawer and decided to revise it. He met an editor for Avalon Books at a conference, and sold the book. He described himself as a linear writer. He started with the opening scene, which he saw clearly, and worked the story and backstory out as he wrote.
Kay Stewart co-wrote with her partner, Chris Bullock. She found that co-writing required that they plot and outline beforehand, though the outline changed as they wrote. The first book took twelve years to complete.
Things said in the panel discussion: introduce complications, clues and red herrings to keep from reaching the ending too quickly. Pacing is an aspect of plot. Introduce new complications to keep things moving. Always ask yourself: how can I make this situation worse? Subplots flesh out characters and introduce complications, but beware of them sucking energy from the main plotline.
Names dropped: Anne Perry plots with sticky notes over a wall in her office, and was ecstatic to discover (at the Surrey Writers Conference) that N America has multi-coloured stickies, so that she could have different colours for specific characters and subplots. Marilyn Bowering says that every scene has a shift in the balance of power. Scott Meredith says to end every chapter with a hook.

Second talk, on Evil. Roy Innes, thin, greying and intense, stoops a bit forward as if scenting a trail. Holds to the Morality Play theory of crime fiction, the satisfaction fo seeing vice punished and virtue rewarded. Distinguished between the detective novel, where the emphasis is on the puzzle solving, and the thriller, where the emphasis is on the threat to the protagonist. The hero is the confronter of evil. Evil defined as 'pleasure from doing harm'. While the hero may not be pure, he cannot be too impure without losing reader sympathy.
Chris Bullock leans back in his chair and speaks calmly. He's a Jungian, and quoted Scott Peck with 'sin is militant ignorance'. Described evil as both something within people, and as a separate force with its own existence. What is the nature of the investigator? The killer may be invisible because the investigator shares (and denies) aspects of himself that he shares with the killer.
Linda Richards, arrived late and perhaps because of that somewhat distrait. Untidy black hair, comes across as ditzy granola-head, but that may be persona, it's hard to say. She doesn't believe in evil as an absolute. Anyone is capable of either evil or saintly behaviour. Allow your villains to be human and complex. Arendt's line about banality of evil quoted. Villains don't think they're villains--ask yourself what story your villain would tell about him/herself.
Things said in panel discussion: What must you connect to in yourself to write an evil character? Does it do you harm, or does the resolution of the mystery resolve the issues raised? Evil must be motivated, must have a goal that is worth what the person does to achieve it.

Setting: Lou Allin, small, tough and weathered, like a piece of driftwood, which is odd, because until recently she lived in Sudbury, not on a coast. All her stories have been set in Sudbury, but she can't take the winters anymore and now she's writing a story set up-island, where she lives. Read an excerpt from one of her books (Memories are Murder? I'm not sure) where the heroine encounters a beaver trapper while walking her dog. It probably read well on the page, but while she read it out loud, she added so many comments and explanations about what is shown or hinted at by this or that detail that I had difficulty picking the story out from the glosses.
David Russell, sleek, with smooth blond hair, a high-school teacher who set his story in a high-school. Practiced speaker (to be expected) with small jokes scattered through, enough to raise a smile without distracting from the topic. Read an excerpt from Deadly Lessons, a scene in the classroom with an inattentive student. Easier to see the virtues in that piece because they weren't being waved at.
Bob Scott, filling in for the absent Chudley. Read the opening of Advertising Murder, the discovery of a body in a highrise office. The story was originally set in Victoria, but his editor asked him to change it to Vancouver, for better recognition. (This amuses, because in films, it's Vancouver that stands in for other cities.) Since he'd relied heavily on his own familiarity with Victoria, and had never lived in Vancouver, this was an alarming development, but he did the revisions.
Said in panel discussion: landscape defines character. Setting can be a character. A school or office in the good part of town will have a different atmosphere than one in a low-income area. Juxtaposition, putting a graveyard across from a school sets up themes and forebodings. Being physically in the setting is useful for the evocation of details, texture, smells. Research, learn the geology, flora and fauna, what animal tracks you might see, etc. Keep the local colour and detail in check, enough to visualise but not so much it will distract (readers will differ on the right amount). Local colour and accurate names and mapping will make the book popular with local people (free dinners possible at restaurants).

What sells? Editor Lynne van Luven, possibly the most businesslike-looking person present, short styled hair and suit-jacket (business casual? not that I'd know) described the process for NeWest press, a slushpile and panel of readers. First reading was of 2-3 chapters, submissions divided into regrets (the really impossible ones) and potential (anything not really awful). Next round was reading by group of 3, required 2 of the 3 liking it. What they looked for:
1) good writing, not ornate but simple clear style
2) a new angle, but not too cute, an inventive but credible detective
3) credible mystery.
Frances Thorsen, Chronicles of Crime bookshop, also in a suit jacket, but wearing it in a more rumpled and professorial way, thick black hair and a narrow face. Local bookseller working closely with local authors. Victoria is a tourist town, often visitors will come in asking for a mystery with a local setting, for combination souvenir and vacation reading. She recommended that new writers try to have a personal relationship with local bookshops, being available for signings and readings, be willing to work with bookseller. It helps if the bookseller likes the story, finds the setting and characters enjoyable and evocative.
James Hawkins, grey hair and beard, would actually be a good character actor for a tv detective series (BBC most likely), gives the impression of much stored energy and determination. He's described as a consumat salesman, criss-crossing Canada signing and reading at every bookstore he can reach. Often sells 80 or more books at a signing (since the average number is supposed to be 5, this is darned impressive). Anecdotes of setting up signing table for best traffic, being helpful to staff, attracting passers-by.
He reminds writers that they are small businesses and should take advantage of that. Revenue Canada recognises the difficulty of making it as a writer, since they allow authors to declare a loss for 7 years, and other businesses only 3 years. Selling to the publisher is only the first step, next writers must sell to the public. Mystery writers need a new book coming out each year, to keep their names current.
Discussion of covers and their effect on sales, that small presses may consult with authors on cover art, that display space, posters, shelf space etc. are all paid for by publishers, their investment in the books (so writers must invest as well, was the moral, I think). Writers need to learn about the media, about opportunities for radio interviews, especially locally (major media coverage also bought by big publishers), don't expect any radio hosts to have read the book, other than Joanna Roberts at All Points West.
Of note: Dundurn Group pays an advance of $250 Canadian (no, that's all the zeros, there are no more). That's based on an expected 500 sales. Selling 3000 in Canada makes you a bestseller.

At the lunchbreak there was an opportunity to have a page of your work critiqued by one of the writers present. Oddly, I don't think more than 5 or 6 people took advantage of this, and yet the audience (varied, but about 50 present) must have been largely composed of hopeful writers. Since I do have the first chapter of a historical mystery (written for the Debut Dagger contest) handy, I printed out the first 2 pages (because it's double-spaced in SMF, and there's no point giving anyone a page that isn't the first page) and brought that in. I figured if 2 pages was pushing it, the person could always just read one.
I got David Russell, and very nice he was. I apologised for the black line running down the page, since I hadn't had time to fire up the good printer. He read both pages, and turned the second page over looking for more, with a faint noise of surprise that there wasn't.
Good things: good turn of phrase, dialogue rang true, evocation of setting, encouraged not to let myself be pressured into watering down my prose.
Things to fix: the wider setting, like what part of Italy, needs to be established by the second page, and it's okay to drop in terms like 'painter of Florence' to satisfy that curiosity. Also, the murder or mystery needs to come in pretty quickly.

During lunch and afterwards the authors had books out for sale and signing, but I'd spent my money on lunch, so was unable to buy anything then. No, wait, I had $5 left, and James Hawkins sold me one of his for that price, because the first hit is free. I chatted with him briefly, and got the impression that his major motivation for the frenzied selling is that he enjoys it. He wants his books to be read, he wants to affect his readers, he believes in his books. And more power to him, but I'd rather be writing, myself.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Last week my husband, ever mindful of my interests, and ever listening to the news broadcasts, heard about this event:

Saturday, June 9
In Celebration of National Crime Writing Week Crime Writers of Canada present

A Mini-Conference on Crime for Writers and Readers

and thought I would want to attend, especially since it was free and on the Saturday.
Mind you, the last time Mark poked me about a mystery-writing opportunity it was the Debut Dagger competition, and he found out about it 2 weeks before the deadline. They only want 3,000 words including an outline, he said blithely of that, you could knock that off in one weekend, easily, and you've got two! What about the research, I asked, when do I do the research?
The annoying aspect is that he was right, and I did manage to come up with a detective and a setting and an opening chapter, though I had to brainstorm with him to figure out what the baddie was actually trying to accomplish with his attempted murder. While attending an out-of-town SCA event. Thus I twitched when he started to tell me about another opportunity, and hid my head.

Fortunately, this demanded nothing of me except showing up and listening to panels. Schedule as follows:

9:30 a.m. Toil and Trouble: Plotting
Featuring authors Stan Evans, Bob Scott and Kay Stewart

11:00 a.m. The Heart of Darkness: Confronting Evil
Featuring authors Chris Bullock, Roy Innes and Linda Richards

12:30-1:30 p.m. Blue Pencil Cafe
Bring one typed page of your writing for a 10-minute critique by a published author

2:00 p.m. A Local Habitation: Setting
Featuring authors Lou Allin, David Russell and Ron Chudley (who didn't make it)

3:30 p.m. The Mystery of What Sells and Why?
Featuring author James Hawkins, bookseller Frances Thorsen and freelance editor Lynne van Luven

4:45 p.m. Book signings

I was relieved to note that all the authors were published by commercial publishers, since sometimes, at small local workshops or classes, people who published with PublishAmerica or other vanity or scam publishers may lecture and be attended to as if they had gone through the mill properly.
The biggest press mentioned was St. Martin's / Minotaur and Mira, who published Linda Richards. NeWest Press, Rendezvous Crime and Touchwood Editions I'd class as small Canadian publishers. I hadn't heard of Dundurn, described as the biggest independent Canadian publishing group (not even sure what a publishing group is), or of Avalon Books, who produce books for libraries, rather like Five Star.
The Crime Writers of Canada catalogue that was a freebie at the event was informative, though I was less reassured by finding one PublishAmerica book, one Trafford, and two Hilliard and Harris titles. The requirements for joining CWC range from being professionally published (undefined) to being 'interested in crime writing' (fan).
It's late, and I'm sleepy and stupid. I'll describe the talks tomorrow.

Friday, June 15, 2007

should I change my blog name?

Because the phrase "Writting Broad" gives me great joy. I found this half-size clipboard in the dollar store and bought it immediately, just for the name. You probably can't read the white captions on the photos at the bottom, but they read, from right to left:
'softly consider' (whether you really want to sit on a marble bench in that short a skirt)
'soft job' (but nobody opens doors for you)
'a soft tongue' (will disconcert the guy sitting next to you).
Almost better than 'Writting broad', but alas, not visible, even when I messed around with the contrast and brightness.

Writey stuff: I've finished the first draft of "Climbing Boys", and am uncertain whether to leave the disruption of the Ladies Society for the Alleviation of Indigence meeting as a brief reference in a conversation or to write it out as the opening incident. I'm also uncertain whether to keep the Punch-and-Judy metaphor in the ghost-sweeper's non-technical explanation, or use it as Ned's pov in the actual ghost capture.
Probably I will put it on OWW and get some opinions. Or not. I've been slowly vanishing from OWW, and the last chapter I had up there of Willow Knot got, oh, one review, from Dorothy Winsor (accepted for this years Viable Paradise, by the way, go Dorothy!). Fold got several reviews, but except for Cathy Freeze's, I suspect it was because of falling during the annual review drive. Some didn't seem to know how to take the story, which I do understand, because it isn't my usual thing, and it's not realistic, more like a dream, with dream-logic and characters whose ages and genders are unspecified.
On the other hand, "Climbing Boys" isn't anything too strange, structurally at least. A little Mervyn Peake influence sneaking into the style, perhaps, but pfah, he's practically mainstream by now.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

standing in a draft

It all depends how one defines 'complete'. The ever-expanding first draft of The Willow Knot is 91k. The last quarter has many notes-to-self about bits to expand or insert. The story is all there, yes. The narrative isn't, necessarily.
My first drafts of short stories or of chapters (to be posted on workshops, for instance) are fairly clean. I usually tweak and polish while re-reading, so my standard for first draft may be more tight-arse than some. Notes to self have usually been replaced by the relevant text before anyone sees them. This leaving it as is and going off for a month(ish) to research and work on other things isn't what I'm used to. I'll have to see how it works.
Rather presumptuous to talk about 'what I'm used to', when I've completed, oh, one co-written novel thus far. Siege of the Revenants was composed mostly on email, writing and emailing back and forth to each other for about a year, writing scenes as the fancy took us, leaping about in space and time. Then fitting the jigsaw together and noting the missing scenes (sky, sky, sky, reflection of sky, grass, sky). I did the note-taking, but M-- did the first collation and first full draft, so it's doubtful whether I have completed a first draft previously.
Revisions, heck yeah. I like revisions. It's the instinct to tidy rather than clean.

Conventional wisdom is that the second draft is the first draft trimmed by 10%. I know for certain sure this will not be the case. I'll be able to trim, yes, but I'll be adding at least another 5k, and it wouldn't surprise me if the second draft verged on 100k. Unfortunately, there isn't the 10k of angst and explanation that I cut out of Siege, so the third draft reduction is going to take out meat as well as fat. Bones have their own beauty, scraped clean.
My study's ornament, thou shell of death.
Once the bright face of my betrothed lady,
When life and beauty naturally fill'd out
These ragged imperfections
Okay, so Tourneur didn't agree.

In the meantime, I've gotten back to "Climbing Boys", and after that, I hope, to "Elementary Magic" (which needs a new title). I'm reading the Secret Memoirs of Princess Lamballe, and Bohemia in the eighteenth century, by Robert Kerner, by way of research. Both of them have odd prose styles, demanding to be read out loud, which I would, if I weren't slowly recovering from a sore throat.
I've got some lovely books on palace architecture, which I'm not letting myself look at until I've finished "Climbing Boys".

It's very odd to plop into the window seat in the morning and open the short stories folder instead of the novels folder. I've been set on the one storyline since October (with a break for writing "Chimps on a Blimp") and I'm a creature of habit.
Priscilla doesn't mind. She nags me to get into the window seat and make her a lap, so she can wedge herself against the laptop and turn into a purring shedding muff. This the cat that wouldn't go near a lap when she first arrived. But perhaps since I pull a duvet over my legs, she can pretend she's not really on my lap?

Submissions and rejections: Bunged "Spellcheck" off to On Spec, which has to maintain a percentage of Canadian content (yay for restrictive culture laws!) to keep its grant. In a spirit of what the heck, entered Fold in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open, which accepts entries up to 20k wordage. I'll have to check if "Bride" is anywhere presently, because I don't think I've hit Realms of Fantasy with it yet. "Foretold" has come home to me, unwanted by Fantasy Magazine, and I may try it at Weird Tales (received a recent issue of WT from Ferret, so I have an idea what they print).

Just finished reading: You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps, by Tom Holt. This is a follow-on from The Portable Door, but could probably be read on its own. Hapless Brit becomes involved with magic, gods, random heroes and bureaucracy, finds frustration, danger and love. I really should post a couple of the contract provisions for selling your soul to the Devil, which are all too plausible. It's a book that requires being read out loud to whoever else is around--not least because they'll be wanting to know what you're giggling at.
All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris. Both the friend who lent this to me and another friend who was present said that this instalment was disappointing. I'm undecided.
Bad aspects - perhaps I should have expected it from the title, but there are definitely too many characters. Some show up just for the sake of showing up, as if it were a reunion episode on tv. I agree that Harris should bounce her 'continuity girl' rather than mentioning her in the acknowledgements. The first chapters are full of characters introduced with tags and explanations, and several of them don't do anything to justify the introduction. Yes, it can be difficult to enter an established series and not know who everyone is, but there's always the option of providing an annotated character list before the story starts. (I love Bubba as much as the next reader, and it's nice to know that he made it through the New Orleans flood, but he Doesn't Appear In This Story, so don't waste space on him!)
Good aspects - my friends said that nothing happens or changes, and the changes in Sookie's relationships aren't fully established or explored; the focus is more on the big picture of vampiric politics and human retaliation. In that big picture, there are some serious changes, and I'm curious how the vampire hierarchy will shake out in the next book.

Monday, June 4, 2007

memes across the borders

Well, the borders between LJ and Blogger, anyways. Bogwitch64 tagged me with the following:
The Rules:
Here are the rules: Each person tagged blogs 7 random facts about themselves, as well as the rules of the game. You need to tag seven others and list their names on your blog. You have to leave those you plan on tagging a note in their comments so they know that they have been tagged and to read your blog.

I doubt I can tag the next seven people, because my LJ/blog acquaintances have been pretty much laid waste to already. But I can do the random facts, probably. My impression is that they should be unsuspected or surprising facts, which raises the bar somewhat.

1. I never attended kindergarten or preschool. We went to the Yukon instead.
2. By the time I was 12, I'd lived in 12 different places, and crossed Canada 3 times.
3. I lived 4 years without electricity or running water, 5 miles up a dirt road on a mountainside.
4. Since my mother died, no one has cut my hair. Before that it was cut short every summer.
5. A rancher in Colorado promised me a steak dinner from his own steers because I identified the author and title of his long-lost favourite childhood book.
6. I've studied judo, SCA heavy combat, wing chun and escrima, but my best bet is to run away.
7. I arrive early for anything that will leave without me, and am horribly unpunctual for any personal appointment.

Anyone who hasn't been tagged and would care to engage in this, consider yourself tagged now.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

wandering aimlessly in translation

Recently arrived in the mail: two Shaw Bros dvds. Dragon Gate Inn (the King Hu original) and Battle Wizard. This is the back-of-box blurb for Battle Wizard:

"Tuan Yu is a wealthy young scholar with no interest in martial arts, who sets out into the boxer world to discover if he can survive on his own. He encounters Zhong Ling-erh, a beautiful woman in command of deadly snakes capable of burrowing through a victim's body. She ends up trapped by members of the Poisonous Moths Clan, but not before allowing Yu to escape and seek aid from the notorious female warrior Xiang Yaocha, wielder of the deadly Bone-cutting Sword. Yu doesn't know it yet, but the woman is actually Mu Wanqing, his elder sister, born of his father and the scorned wife of the Yellow Robe Man. When this affair was previously uncovered, the two men fought and Yu's father blasted the Yellow Robe Man's legs off with his Yi Yang Finger technique. Now the Yellow Robe Man plots to take his revenge by abducting Yu and his sister with the help of a vicious man-beast with a metallic skull and claw hand. Their only hope resides with Yu, who has absorbed incredible internal power by sucking the blood of the giant Red Python. Combined with another power source, he will have to confront a nasty gorilla while locked in a prison lair and escape to face the Yellow Robe Man's fire breath and extending mechanical bird's feet."

I was coping pretty well until I reached the nasty gorilla. Maybe I should watch this with the subtitles off, for better comprehension? Nope, it's English-dubbed only. Darn.