Saturday, March 31, 2007

Critiquing - fireweed blossoms on the burnt-over patch

I've been going through a dry spell of critiquing. Or had reached a plateau. A flat, dry plateau. Not a slough of despond, fortunately, but not exactly inspiring, either.

I like critiquing. My strength is probably line-critting rather than big-picture issues. I'm good at spotting continuity breaks, and inconsistencies, and keeping track of where the characters are in a scene. That's 'good' in the sense of amateur reviewer, not in the sense of 'people who get paid to do that'.
It was fun, because I could see where small changes could make a real difference, even something as minor as reversing the order of clauses in a sentence. Where someone could cut a couple of words and make a sentence stronger. Easy things to do, for the most part. Sometimes the other writer would immediately pick up on those tricks, and we'd have a back-and-forth where he'd apply the points that made sense to him (not all--this wasn't slavish). His next subs would be stronger and tighter, and more his own voice. It's very cool when that happens. Like showing someone the little painting tricks for trompe l'oeil, and watching them run with it.
I tried to google a citation for the line about editing and the irresistible urge to meddle with someone else's writing, but couldn't--probably because I'm not sure of the exact wording. I did find this:
"We live in a world where the three great motivators of humanity are 1) Food, 2) Sex, and 3), the need to change someone else's writing."
from Joe Clifford Faust's blog. It may be the primary source, but I expect the sentiment has been expressed before the advent of the internet, or even of wordprocessors.
In the interests of honesty, I'll admit that two people told me to never review their work again. In the interests of snarkiness, one of them had an MC who was an escaped slavegirl with natural healing powers and a mind-bonded unicorn, who was taught swordsmanship by an enchanted wolf, and whose hair changed colour when she worked important magic. I said as gently as I could that her heroine was verging on Mary-Sue territory. I guess I wasn't gentle enough.

Then, in the fall of last year, critting became a chore. I'd skim through submissions on Absolute Write's Share Your Work forum, and through the under-reviewed subs on the Online Writing Workshop, and I wouldn't be able to think of anything to say. Or I'd think, well, I could suggest that the writer do this or that, but would it really make a difference? Would they listen, would it matter if they did? Rather like depression, but specific to critiquing. The rest of my life was good--in fact I was excited about attending Viable Paradise.
The irony of this did not escape me. I was going to spend a week critiquing other people's work, in person, and I couldn't stir my stumps to critique online?
I pushed myself. I reminded myself that once I got started, I'd find things to say, and that, reading my crits afterwards, I'd find them more coherent than they felt while I was writing them. But while I did write a few, I fell with a flump off the Top Reviewers List on OWW and disappeared.

Well, after VP I'd be reinvigorated, right?
Yes, for my own writing. That zoomed (at least by my slow-and-steady standards). No for crits. I whined about it on AW, and got a few head-pats, a suggestion that maybe I needed to examine my motivations, and one very thoughtful post from Linda Adams: that since one learns by giving critiques as much as by receiving them, "you may not be doing critiques because you've learned what you need at this point."
I took comfort in that, and tried to think of it as plateau rather than burnout. I did crits here and there, usually of under-reviewed pieces, so I wasn't just repeating what other reviewers had said. (That's my usual practice. If someone's received more than two or three reviews, I figure the useful points have already been made.)

Gradually through March, the base urge to mess with other's prose has slowly, tentatively returned, like a crocus pushing through the soil, or some other trite simile. Whether it's really back, or about to be smushed into black slime by a late frost, I don't know. But I've posted three crits on OWW, and four brief crits and one multi-part line-crit on AW, which is more than I've achieved since, oh, November.

Writing, the stuff I'm really supposed to be doing...
The Willow Knot hit 71k this month. I'm slowing down, because I've reached the point where I need to figure out which scenes still need to be written, and write those, not just bumble around in the world and see what I trip over.
I also need to work out the details of the plot against Alard, and what makes it necessary to move at that point. Who gains what?
On the happy side, there's a fever-dream that I'd sketched in after Myl's encounter with the bear, where she's taken underground (foreshadow willow-root rescue later) and sees the root-forest as the reverse of the branch-forest, as lively and as beautiful, for all that it's worms and bugs instead of birds and squirrels. Originally it was just an idea that I thought was cool. Now I'm thinking it may tie in thematically with the latter part of the story, Myl at court. She's been humbled, now she's raised as high as she can go, but she'll need all the skills she learnt at the bottom to keep herself safe at the top. And she can see how necessary the roots of the tree are to the crown (pun, sorry) which may not be as clear to those who've never looked down.
Something for me to think about, if I can avoid being heavy-handed and preachy!

Just finished reading The Thread That Binds the Bones, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Very nicely written--she's a stylist. The premise is pretty much ZennaHenderson's The People gone bad, which is intriguing. Very readable, but I felt it skimpy in parts. Not that I wanted an explanation or backstory for the Family, or why they have Clearly Symbolic Surnames, but that the baddy was such a shadowy figure until the end, and it seemed the other characters were overlooking the source of the problem (which was perhaps established too early, or I'm too quick at guessing). Also I didn't really feel afraid for the hero; his powers were so mutable and adaptable I felt sure they'd rise to the occasion.
I enjoyed it, and I'd read other books by her, but it did make me wonder if she was held back by wordcount limits or other considerations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I haven't been to many science-fiction conventions. Or, more precisely, I've been to a few conventions several times, they being annual affairs.
The Vancouver science fiction convention, VCon, I've attended since VCon 6, not counting a semi-accidental attendance of VCon 3, when I was in highschool, to hear Frank Herbert speak, because I'd just read Dune. (I was in highschool, okay? I got over it.) I did Anglicon, a British media con based in Seattle, from Anglicon 5 to 16, shortly after which it sank gracefully away like the British Empire.
In 1979 Mark and I were in England, fortuitously in time for both Worldcon in Brighton and the Cambridge Beer Festival. Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Silverberg were at the former, and I met Richard O'Brian (Rocky Horror Picture Show) in the dealers' room. That's the only Worldcon I've been to. I think it had 3, maybe 4 tracks of programming. I understand they've become larger since.
Other than that, NonCon, the Edmonton sf convention, the year it was held in Vancouver because much of Edmonton fandom had migrated to the West Coast; ICon, the Island sf convention that crashed shortly afterwards (not my fault! they'd kicked me off the concom months before!); Westercon 44 which was VCon 19, with a fanzine workshop by Teresa Nielsen Hayden where I learned many things about Gestetners (later bought one, and a cute little Roneo as well), and a jellypad mimeo session in the fanzine room, which was major nostalgia for me, as my dad used to duplicate test papers that way. He said the biggest problem with jellypad was that in the poor rural areas where he taught first, the children would sometimes eat the gelatin.

But that's preface (and I refuse to take responsibility for any mistakes in chronology). My thoughts (or thots, for Molesworth fans) on Potlatch are coloured by those experiences, narrow but moderately lengthy. Otherwise I wouldn't bother mentioning them. Oh, I might anyways, though as bragging goes, it's not that impressive a boast.

Potlatch is a small, low-key convention with a literary emphasis.
Everyone involved seemed experienced, and there was little need for volunteers. Registration, a dealers' room (all booksellers), hospitality and one programming room. Memberships sold out--something I'm not used to, since VCon and Anglicon always seem to be scrambling for members.
Very much a cosy, family feeling, with most attendees knowing each other, particularly evident when questions were asked at panels, and questioners were identified by name. "Tom, we're going to let Judy ask first, then you, then Alan." Not that I felt excluded, only that it was evident how long the regulars had known each other. It happens, obviously, in other long-running cons, especially ones supported by longterm local fans, but I found it particularly marked here.
I think it would be a difficult con to become part of, if one came from away, because it seems to rely on long-standing and local relationships more than most. The self-sufficiency, while admirable, doesn't open avenues for strangers to make themselves useful and thus accepted.
I'm fairly used (from travelling alone to distant SCA events) to being the stranger at the feast, and since I tend to be more observer than participant anyways, I was comfortable, especially having the other VPX and AW contacts--and rooming with Lucy, who knows everyone. For someone new to the scene, or more uncertain, I could see it being perhaps off-putting, even intimidating. All those people who know one another.
I also noticed, more perhaps than at VCon, where it's crept up on me, the greying of fandom (which includes me, yes, right by the ears). I saw at most half-a-dozen people who looked to be in their early twenties. Of course, that's a whole 'nother topic, whether sf cons are losing their purpose as sf/f becomes more mainstream and less an embattled and misunderstood minority. Yes, and whether it still is an e.&m.m. is yet a third topic. Which I'm not qualified to discuss.

Local hotels were quite full due to a scrapbookers convention and to cheerleader try-outs, both at the nearby convention centre. Young and extremely energetic girls percolated through the halls at all hours, shrieking randomly and giggling frequently. By the second day they had discovered the staircases and the exterior landings, and were rushing through those instead of waiting for the elevators.
The scrapbookers were mostly middle-aged women, distinguishable from the con attendees by virtue of not wearing t-shirts with arcane slogans. There were several in the breakfast room, chatting about the papercraft classes. Apparently attendance was down considerably from previous years, so perhaps scrapbooking as a craft has peaked?

I listened to three panels: Effective Subversive Fiction, Humor in Science Fiction, and Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings.

Subversive Fic was the most worthwhile, probably because of the more focussed panelists, primarily Ursula Le Guin, though all were interesting. I was pleased to see Vonda McIntyre, whose work I've liked since Dreamsnake (though I skipped the Star Trek adaptations). I've started The Moon and the Sun, but finding it rather slow going. I think I need a long bus trip to really concentrate on it. All of the panelists were clueful, but I felt that some of the questions from the audience were more designed to call attention to the questioner than to bring up a particular point.
This is one reason why I don't ask many questions during panels, particularly when people I admire are present. There are one or two (or three or more) memories of my voice raised in a question or observation that...okay, never mind. No one remembers those moments but me, thank heaven. The lesson 'No one is really interested in what you have to say' is an important one, and I wish I'd learned it earlier.
I felt there was a prevailing sense of 'subversive fiction is the stuff that leaves me feeling complacent but makes other people uncomfortable, because other people need shaking up', an attitude that was challenged once or twice. I appreciated the suggestion that fiction may be subversive without having been originally intended that way--an example was given of Barbara Cartland's romances showing a young woman in the Middle East that there were other ways of leading one's life than the one presented in her society. Certainly Barbara Cartland wouldn't see herself as someone challenging the conventions, rather upholding them. It reminded me of the one fan-letter Georgette Heyer appreciated, from a woman who had been a political prisoner in Roumania, and who supported the spirits of her fellow prisoners by telling and retelling the story of Heyer's book Friday's Child, which she had read just before her arrest.

The Humor panel had several funny moments, so I wasn't bored, but was more 'what is humour' and 'how is humour in fiction different from verbal or visual humour' than about humour in sf/f. A few examples were given, mostly from Robert Sheckley's work, though he was called up more in a general way, as a sort of hovering presence of humorous sf, smiling down on the company, rather more benevolently than he might have done in life.

Misunderstandings was the least focussed of all, turning very quickly into anecdotes from panelists and audience about funny or unfunny things that had happened to them while travelling, and 'what my Japanese/Mexican coworker said'. Relevance to sf/f was pretty much nil, and some knee-jerk responses (certain cultures or subcultures being assumed to be monolithic or dismissable) that made me a trifle uncomfortable.
Worse for Bart, since he belongs to one of said subcultures. Being a West-coast Canadian, I probably would have gotten a rubber-stamped politically correct pass in Portland. Though not in Seattle, because of the sewage issue with Victoria (several billion dollars for a sewage treatment plant, mostly because of pressure from Seattle, and it won't do any good because most of the problem is from faulty septic fields...but never mind, I learned not to get into that argument at Anglicon.)
A very DC Comics irony to a panel on cultural misunderstandings promulgating cultural misunderstanding.
One anecdote I have socked away in the memory because it did seem to have some potential application for fiction. A woman travelling alone in a Middle Eastern country, on a train, first class carriage. The train is held up for some time, and eventually a tribal woman with her attendant rushes in. Woman guesses this to be some important matriarch, for whom the train has been held. Later in the journey, tribal woman leaves, and middle-class woman with her female companion enters. Female companion speaks some English, and woman learns what the attentive listener figured out earlier, that the train was held while respectable women from 2d or 3d class carriages were rushed in to first class to preserve the modesty of the train by accompanying the lone foreign woman.

Probably the best part of the con was hanging out with people. VPXers formed various groupings in restaurants, bars, shops and hospitality rooms, like an amoeba that kept changing its mind about cell division. MacAllister took the reunion to an extreme by not attending anything, I think, only visiting with VPXers and AWers. Which might have been the path of wisdom, really. I met (in person) Dawno, Medievalist, and PThom from AW, renewed acquaintance with Evan and Bart, and got better acquainted with Lucy, whom I hadn't really known at VP. Lucy would make a good Buddha. She has the small curled smile and the air of contented detachment (or detached contentment). Everyone knew her, even though she hadn't attended Potlatch before.
Saw the Chinese Gardens, which are rather grander than the Sun Yat-Sen Gardens in Vancouver, and imagined scenes from Story of the Stone, like Bao-yu having dedication verses demanded of him after the visit of the Imperial Concubine. This refined literary allusiveness was a bit hampered by my also imagining wuxia swordsmen flying suddenly into the scene and cutting everyone down in a flurry of silk and steel.

I bought more books than I should have, both in the dealers' room and during two visits to Powells (although Bart saved me, the second time, by engaging me in discussion about writing-and-stuff so that I hardly had the chance to be tempted.) Every time I went near books I'd try to remember that I was non-vehicular and dependent on the goodwill and cargo-capacity of others and that I didn't need any more books anyways.
And yet...
One frustration at Powells. They have several (though not all) volumes of Stith Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, but not in the shop.
At the Quimby Warehouse, which is not on Quimby Street, and possibly not in Portland, or even in the same state. I wanted to look at them, figure out which volumes they were and which edition they were, and so on. But each volume is $80-90, and the only way they leave the warehouse is with the undertaking that the requester will buy them.
On the other hand, I found Stith Thompson's book on the Folktale for a reasonable price, and it was much easier to carry around. Katharine Briggs on Fairies, with a totally inappropriate cover showing a cheapo magic wand topped with a glitter-star suggestive of kiddy crafts. And the Ralph Mannheim trans of Grimms Tales complete, damaged, for only $5. Hurrah!
In the Dealer's Room I bought two Dave Langford books, one of which has been snatched from me half-finished, by my husband. Harrumph. Also lucked into some thank-you gifts for my friends Tony and Lin, who had put me up for a few days and driven me hither and yon, and who (though I didn't know it then) would be waiting for an hour at the train station to pick me up Sunday night. Autographed copies of one of the Simon Green Nightside books for Tony, and one of the Southern Vampire books for Lin. And an autographed Barbara Hambly for a birthday present coming up.

Oh, autographs. I was able to torment Zoe, in a good cause. This is how it goes: Zoe is a great admirer of Le Guin. I saw that Le Guin was attending the convention, and so I brought a copy of the last Earthsea book, just in case. I didn't say anything about this, because I wasn't sure if Potlatch was going to be appropriate for autograph gathering. I didn't even mention that I would be at a convention, just that I'd be in transit and offline for most of a week.
After the Subversive fic panel, Lucy kindly brought Bart and me to Le Guin and asked if this would be a good moment to have books signed. Yes, if it wasn't a pile of books. Ursula Le Guin is thin and slightly stooped. Her eyes are bright and alert, and her face is sharp, almost beaky. The combination suggests a bird that may suddenly peck at you, and that it would be best not to be wormish in her presence. Her hair is a creamy white, cut in a Dutch-boy bob (do they still call it Dutch-boy? It was my invariable and dreaded summer haircut). I asked her to sign her book for Zoe, and told her what Zo had said once (along the lines of 'if I could write half as well as Ursula Le Guin, I'd die a happy woman') because it's always a good idea to pass on nice things that other people say, and I held Zoe's book up (having it with me) for the purposes of spelling her name right. Le Guin admired the cover, which is lovely, and asked who the publisher was. I said Walker, Candlewick in the States, and she said that she'd started with Walker Books. And that was it.
Before going to bed, I went online at the hotel's internet, found the thread on ABE books, and posted to Zo "Ursula Le Guin likes your book cover." Then I went to bed. Zo's in England, so while I slept the sleep of the just (just something, anyways), she received the benefit.
The next day I read a string of replies, starting with What? Who? Where? What???, a suggestion that I'd be sorry if she had a stress-induced heart attack, and finishing with a heartfelt cry to the heavens that she couldn't believe I would leave her hanging like this.
Heh heh heh.
It was almost a pity to end the suspense. But all was forgiven when explanations were made. (ooh, two passives in one sentence)

Notes on travel: I took the Amtrak from Edmonds to Everett, a little train running along the coast. Sitting on the side away from the water, and looking out, I couldn't see the beach most of the time, only the sun on the water. It was like being in the train from Spirited Away.
At least until it hit the rocks some helpful person had balanced on the rails. Glassy shattering noises and things flying by the windows. The train stopped, and people in jackets walked up and down the tracks. No announcements, because the electrical system was damaged. Instead we were informed by mouth. Eventually it started up again, pushed by an engine in the back and thus about half-speed. The usual cameraderie and acquaintance that small disasters inspire had flourished in the car, and I wasn't scheduled for anything, so I didn't fuss.
I took the Amtrak from Portland to Seattle (Bart was a real gent, and pulled my rollie suitcase to the station). The train fare was about $15 more than the bus fare, but I've travelled by bus too many times not to appreciate the difference. Heaps more room between the seats, lap tray, the ability to get up and walk around, and a toilet that doesn't smell of urine (usually). Oh, and a restaurant car.
Then the train stopped in Centralia for about an hour. This time it was something mechanical. So I plugged in my laptop and wrote a bit, I walked to the restaurant car and got some tea, and I read. Other than being sorry I didn't have a cell and couldn't warn Lin and Tony to wait, I was content. And by the time we were approaching Seattle, I was nodding off, waking repeatedly to check the station signs.
The next morning Tony dropped me off at the Clipper, in plenty of time to get my ticket and go through the Customs check. Plenty of time, as I discovered on buying my ticket, because due to stormy weather, the Clipper's departure was indefinitely delayed.
I bought breakfast at the astoundingly-poorly-laid-out caff next to the Clipper office (Honestly. It's as if the Bizarro World Frank Gilbreth had worked it out.) The crowning touch for me was that the teabags were tastefully arranged according to the colour of their packets, but I was able to pluck an English Breakfast (red) from the ranks of the Ruby Mist before the people behind in line trampled me. The 2% milk was hidden behind the counter and had to be asked for specially, although flavoured milk was in the cold drinks case, visible.
When the Clipper was able to sail, it took the scenic route, skirting through the islands and avoiding the open waters, where waves were several feet high (I think 9ft waves were mentioned). However, all drinks were $1.50, instead of the usual $4-5, so I had a glass of wine and enjoyed the scenery. I rather wish I could have mapped our course, but I didn't make notes.
And thus home again. I've missed talking about the drive down to Portland, and the jacuzzi, and Voodoo Doughnuts and so on, but I'm already thinking I should have split this up.

Friday, March 23, 2007

My eyes fail to glow eerily

The anti-malarial arthritis drug has this drawback. It can collect in the back of your eyes and make you partially blind. So I stopped in at the optometrist and asked about being checked over for a baseline reading of just how blind I currently am.
Oh, we can get you in now, if you want to wait twenty minutes.
I phoned in to work, and had a cup of tea. Twenty minutes later, my very strong blink reflex (my gag reflex is healthy too) was being tested and my pupils were distended enough for the admission of spelunkers. The conclusion was that the situation in the back of my eyes is stable (I don't extend this assurance to include my brain.)
I went in to work with the reassuring gaze of an opium addict, but fortunately I don't deal with the public. My dad, who was born in 1904, always said 'drug fiends' instead of 'junkies', and although in any other context he would have pronounced it 'feends', in that set phrase it was always 'fee-ends'.
No one at work noticed my fiendishness--one of my minor peeves in fiction is the assumption that people notice each other's eye-colour under circumstances that don't involve staring closely at someone's face. This is especially questionable when secondary characters are called on, usually under conditions of some stress, to notice that the hero or villain has changed his eye colour from mild grey to steely-grey or blue flame, or red flecks of rage are dancing in his eyes, or suchlike.
At home I got Chris to find his blacklight, and we shone it in my eyes, but alas, the effect of the drops had faded, and my eyes did not glow purple.
I endure disappointment. Still, I have a referral to a full opthamological exam, so I may have another chance. I could take the blacklight in to work, and plug it in at my desk.

Just finished reading Unexpected Magic, a collection of stories by Diana Wynne Jones. Mixed bag, as usual with shorts. The novella "Everard's Ride" was the most notable, a Ruritanian romance of sorts, set on the coast of England.
It started me wondering how much the Narnia books owe to the Ruritanian tradition, since they use the basic situation of characters from modern England stumbling into intrigue and plots in strange kingdoms where derring-do is still an option, people dress in romantic old-fashioned clothing, and everything is more highly coloured and vital somehow. Just add magic, some scriptural allegory, and go. I suppose someone has written a decent article on this. I should google and find out.
Trivia: the other name for Ruritanian romance is Graustarkian romance. The first has more recognition because The Prisoner of Zenda sold better than McCutcheon's books and had films made from it. The films are much lighter and more comic-opera-like than the book, by the way.

Suggestions for reliable low-cost web hosting are still being gratefully accepted, by the way. Not to, y'know, pester anyone.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A writer without a blog is like a -- without a --.

But a blog's not enough. I must have a website. And register a domain name for that day when someone is googling for me and not for a DC Comics fansite.
If all the other kids jumped off a bridge, would you get an LJ account? Answer in 500 words or fewer.

Okay, fine. I've started thinking about what I'd want in a website, and it's pretty minimal. I'm not self-publishing (the 3-Day doesn't count, because I'm not selling that, it's just for friends who want to read the first version, where you can still see where the sweat-drops marked the manuscript) so I wouldn't need a shopping cart or catalogue.
  • A short bio, of questionable accuracy, so as not to bore anyone.
  • FAQ (if that name can be used of questions that have not in fact ever been asked).
  • List of sales (one!!!) with link(s).
  • Opening chapters of WiPs.
  • Recommended research sources.
  • Possibly silly stuff like pics of characters and places, the floor plans of Woram Hall, pics of my cat and bookshelves, random bits of interesting folklore.
  • Some simple way for hypothetical readers to contact me and get a response.
  • No Flash animations (no matter how cute), no blinkies, no font madness.

I hereby vow that I will not have a website or even a page that is 'under construction' or empty. Content or nonexistence. Feel free to take me to task if I break this vow.

Now, here's the deal. Mark has a website, which you should all go to and order from, hosted by islandnet. Which isn't cheap, but is local and reliable. He can move to the next level, and get a second domain name and more stuff, for another $10 Cdn a month.
Zoe's website is hosted by doteasy. She found it easy to put together and has had no problems with the host. However, according to a couple of review sites, doteasy goes down rather more than is acceptable.
Googling free or low-cost web hosting reviews takes me to several sites, where the reviews may be scanty, biased, a mix of ranty negative over-reactions and suspect enthusiasm, or not updated for a couple of years.
Most of the low-cost hosting services seem to charge rather less than $10/mo, but see above for the difficulty of knowing whether they're reliable or not. I'm not so much worried about downtime, because I'm not planning to sell anything from the site. It's being being renewed (and charged for it) without notice, and odd business like that.

So, I'm collecting datapoints and opinions. Who would you recommend for a minimal sort of website, and why?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vainly published, and I have proof.

The sample copy of my self-published book arrived yesterday. Lulu's done a good job. The cover looks better than it did as a pdf, the paper is good quality and the binding seems sturdy--at least for a perfect-bound book.
The not-so-good things are those I already knew about. The pic on the back cover is squished, and I'm going to ask Mark if he can fix it to the required size. If he can (which I expect he can, because it's me who's the techno-peasant), I think I can just reload the picture and leave the rest of the cover as is.
The table of contents looks untidy, because I couldn't get Word (this was on someone else's computer, because I lost Word on my own) to do the ToC in the way it's supposed to, so I did it by hand, and the edges are ragged. Plus, I should have put the page numbers elsewhere on the page, because Mirror Margins didn't fix the gutters, and the verso page numbers are somewhat swallowed.
None of which adds up to a particularly big deal, especially as this is a souvenir of my folly rather than a Real Book.
But I still snagged the 3-Day Novel published winners that I own (Day-shift Werewolf, Wastefall, Body Making Words) to compare them against my minim opus. Which stood up pretty well, for production quality.
So I can go ahead with ordering more, to give as presents to the people who would actually appreciate such a gift (my ego only carries me so far into self-delusion).
I flat-out don't know whether to give one to M--. I told her on the phone that I'd gone to Lulu and would be printing out a few for souvenirs, and she said something vague about 'tell me when they arrive', or 'tell me how it goes' but she didn't ask for a copy, and she didn't ask for the url so she could download it for free. It's not that she doesn't know about downloading or e-publishing, because Irene's been e-published several times. I'm reluctant to ask her directly, 'so, do you want a copy of Fold?' because then she'd feel put on the spot, and I know from past experience she's easily made to feel pressured. Or pressurized, as they say in the UK.
Not a big issue, it's just slightly awkward not to know whether she's making polite congratulatory noises for a friend's sake or is interested in the book itself. Other friends have said, in so many words, that they want to buy a copy, or want to read it. Or have made congratulatory noises that indicate they're happy for me but not interested in the book, which is cool too, because it's an odd story, and I don't expect it to be to everyone's taste.

Eventually I'll expand it, probably by expanding Cami's storyline, perhaps by adding more episodes of Palev's wanderings. The great thing about picaresque narrative is the loose structure. But I've no idea still of which publishers to send it to. I'd have a bit of a leg up for small Canadian presses, being Canadian, but since the story itself isn't set in Canada, neither in the depressed rural parts nor the gritty inner city parts, it has a strike against it.

Anyway, I am now totally a self-published author. Expect to see me harrassing bookshop managers and writing sockpuppet posts to message boards. I'll have to do a better job than my first attempt, though. I'll plagiarise Zolah and Emil's versions, those are way better.

In other news, I decided on the Miele Umbria City bike, with coaster brake and Nexus 8 internal gears. I've been biking to work, and after raising the seat twice I think I've got the correct angle. I'm still not sure where the bumps on the handlebars are supposed to be to properly fit my hands, but I'm supposed to take the bike in after two weeks, to make any adjustments, so I'll ask about it then.
The arthritis is subdued by medication. So far no notable side effects, though the promised 'loss of appetite' has failed to kick in, alas. Instead I'm ravenous in the evenings, even after dinner. I'm hoping that's due to the time change and will settle down. My doctor says if the Hydroxyquin does its job, I'll be able to drop the Neproxene and the associated risk of it eating my stomach lining, so good news abounds, really.
And my bike is very black and very cool. I'm refusing to leave it outside overnight until I have something to lock it to that's out of the rain. I bring it in, as if I were living in a city apartment.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The first lines thing

Since I've been mostly offline for a week, and am even more of a sluggard about keeping up with LJ and blogs than I am about critiquing, the first lines thing pretty much passed me by, until Bart mentioned it at Potlatch. His post links to a useful Bear post on the topic of first lines, which I'm not sure I'm presently skilful enough to apply to my own work.
I'm not altogether convinced that first lines are crucial, but I suspect the real attraction of such memes is that they allow one to talk about one's work. In a strictly academic and comparative manner, of course, rather than with self-centred egotism or anything like that.
Being as self-centred as any other writer, I've given in to temptation. Herewith some of my first lines and what I think about them.

Completed short stories, in reverse order of completion:

Chimps on a Blimp
Valves hissed, and Willow saw the blimp's gasbag swell to a monstrous black egg outlined by pink sky.
[blimp and valves hopefully signals that this is alt-hist or steampunk and not fantasy; the blimp inflation should suggest a journey about to begin; main character's name helpfully provided; a naive hope on the author's part that the combination of 'monstrous' and 'pink' is a hint of both danger and light amusement to come; oh, yeah, and the time of day.]

Bride of the Vampire
Of course the wedding was at night.
[both the title and the first line signal that this is about an unusual wedding, hopefully piquing the reader's interest about why it has to be at night; the 'of course' should provide a matter-of-fact tone that indicates the subject will not be treated altogether seriously, as should the B-movie title. I fear this is a girly story, because the two readers who have utterly not gotten it are both male, whereas the female readers have all gotten it, whether they were positive about all of it or not. But I digress.]

"That which you love best will turn on you and destroy you."
[story about prophecy begins with a prophecy; ominous mood and threat presented; a conscious attempt (and therefore itself Doomed in Big Doomy Letters) to catch attention with the first line; should raise the question of how the oracle can be interpreted and how it will play out (badly for everyone); ending echoes it with possible double meaning.]

Sheep were good at dying.
[short, hopefully punchy and establishing comic tone; introduces sheep, possibly a rural setting; establishes a problem.]

The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter
I dreamed of the Wild Hunt and a child wailing, and woke to gusts rattling the windows.
[kind of a Gothick feel, perhaps; introduces the precipitating event which is the stealing of a mortal child; introduces the question of why the narrator dreams of the Wild Hunt, especially as later in the opening she looks at a digital clock-radio; ominous weather; the more discursive style suggests an older, old-fashioned narrator.]

Uncompleted short stories, in no particular order:

Climbing Boys
"Tain't rats, yer leddyship, I reckon it's ghosts."
[story about MPD kids used as psychic chimney sweeps; the speech is meant for Dickensian style, somewhat parodic; comic tone with hints of grimness, I guess; introduces problem; suggests setting; establishes two characters in dialogue]

Elementary Magic (title subject to change)
Her Majesty's High Sorcerer accepted a glass of claret from the nervous young lieutenant and leaned back in the camp-chair.
[again a more discursive style to suggest Edwardian fiction; fantasy or alt-hist setting; possibly in a military camp; question of what the sorcerer is doing there and why the Lt. is nervous; introduces two characters, both named in succeeding sentences.]

The bell at the postern gate cried at two hours before dawn.
[another story messing around with gods and prophecy, this one in a more trad fantasy setting; time of night and verb 'cried' to suggest urgency or tragedy; postern gate to suggest ancient/fantasy setting; may suggest bell tolling for end or death, which is the ending of the story.]

Aptitude Test
Mam bent down and smoothed the edges of Maymay's yuvee mask flat under her dark curls.
[introduces two characters, including pov (Maymay) and suggests that family & relationships will be central; minor sfnal touch of UV mask; gesture meant to suggest Mam's worry (over the Screeners' coming inspection of her children) and Maymay's sensing of her mother's worry. sf, so not one of my stronger stories and may not transcend its origins]

"Is that a real fire?"
[I still have no idea where this story is going, but I've long wanted to start a story with this famous Question Asked of Reenactors. Not an urban legend, by the way, as it was asked in our camp two years ago, by a visitor. Blatant attempt at hook; leads into establishing of Living History setting; mildly funny in context.]

Uncompleted novels:

The Willow Knot actually begins with the first lines of Grimm Tale 11, so it's a special case. The first bit of my own writing is:
Myl stood in the chicken run, throwing handfuls of seed to the greedy hens.
[introduces main character; rural setting; themes of eating and hunger--the stock of fairy tales.]

The Astrologer's Death
The boy Tom huddled against the wall, hands tucked into his shirt for warmth, water dripping coldly off the high thatched eaves onto his outthrust elbows and splashing on his bare feet.
[old-fashioned diction to suggest historic setting; general air of misery; main character introduced; question of why he's standing there getting wet.]

Children of Mercury
With stealth surprising in so stocky a man, Maestro Agnolo di Lorenzo stepped to within a pace of his intended victim.
[historical mystery. Opening is a bit of a cheat, as the victim is his lazy apprentice about to be hit with a stick. Introduces main character and a secondary character; suggests main character is more than he looks; hints at crimes to come.]

The line stretched on in front of Palev and behind him.
[the 3-day novel, litfic so needs no hook, perhaps. Introduces main character; bureaucracy as theme; simple language for child character.]

Thursday, March 1, 2007

briefly falling off the face of the earth, oh, and sockpuppets

Shortly I depart for Vancouver (BC), thence to Newberg OR to attend the An Tir Arts & Sciences Championship
I'll be judging a couple of entries, giving feedback on others, catching up with my apprentices and visiting with friends. I probably won't be online.
The weekend after this one I'll be at Potlatch, in Portland. Two weekends near Powells! I may need to hire bearers in order to return home.
In order to avoid driving/border/ferry and ferry/border/driving only a few days apart, I'll be staying in the States, in Seattle, and visiting with friends for the week between. The online accessibility of the friends is uncertain, though one has promised "to browse museums, troll bookstores, roll drunks, whatever your littel heart desires!"

And what's the internet in comparison to that?

In the meantime, for your reading enjoyment, here's a selection of sockpuppet spam from the ABEBooks forums, with identifying marks filed off. Tell me, if you like, which of these describe the book in enough detail that you could make any sort of decision about whether you'd like to read them:

A) How to Be Rich
I used to remember reading some books on financial literacy and how to make money and all about money ideas and the myths about money. There's this one particular quotation that captures my attention until today. " Money is not evil, the lack of money is evil' Is there anyone out there who can give me more book titles that talks about improving our knowledge on money?
Well, there's one in particular which is great found in by the way. That's my contribution and question for this time.
Fairly low-key, though the asking of a question and answering it oneself is rather transparent. The book is about making money, presumably, and the website is provided by way of ordering information.

B) The K--t W--n of N-- O--s R--.
Just finished reading it. It's a pageturner with a couple of interesting twists, reminescent of Alexander Dumas' "Twenty Years After" and Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper," only it's set in antebellum New Orleans and New York. Most of the book is written in contemporary English, with a few stylized 19th Century passages and a couple of regional-sounding dialogues thrown in for color, I guess.
The company that published the novel claims that it's ONLY available on their website (no entry, no third-party distributor). They call themselves M--y N--e Publishing -
The blurb says the book is the first part of a trilogy. I'm not sure whether the trilogy is already written, or planned, or what. I loved the novel. It works just fine as a stand-alone.
This one provides a setting, though only the vaguest hints as to plot. I guess it may be about dispossessed royalty and disillusioned musketeers, only in New York. Maybe.
The pretended uncertainty "for color, I guess" "I'm not sure whether" is rather sweet in a faux-naif way, but you'll notice he remembered to include the url.

C) Soucide in Love
The book B--e R--s is a very, very, great book. I really enjoyed it. It has to do with a guy named Henry who attempted to soucide and is sent to a mental hospital; where he falls in love with his therapist. I am the son of the author, My name is B-- B--, I am 12 years old. It was a bit complicated to me. But I got to finish reading it, and honestly, I am very proud of my father.
Who could resist? The kid shilling for his dad, it's either sweet or a bit icky. I could spell suicide when I was 12, though, and I have to wonder why the kid didn't pick up the correct spelling from the book, which by the way, sounds a bit adult in content to give a 12 year old.

D:1) The S--o S--d S--y: Against the W--
I would highly recommend this book to - anyone who loves dogs - anyone who enjoys amazing 'true life' stories - anyone who believes that spirituality does play a part in Life.
This is a story of an amazing woman and her struggles to bring a breed of dog into existence; a dog similar to those she remembers from her childhood, whose magnifigence and gentle manner have been long forgotten! It is the story of the 'politics' of dog breeding and showing; anyone interested in buying a purebred dog of any breed should read this, to make sure they know exactly what they're buying.
Most of all, it is the story of the development S--o S--d, and the ISSR, the only registry for the S--h S--d.
A truly great read!
Apparently one sock wasn't enough, despite the extravagant praise. The author needed the pair:
D:2) What a beautiful book.....I bought the book based on the cover photo's. Gorgeous dogs, I had heard of them but knew they were a rare breed and never investigated any further. After reading this book, I want one ! ! The story takes you on a roller coaster through this ladies life. Wow! ! It is so poignant and forthright with a twist of humour and excitement 'just at the right times' to keep you wanting to read more.
The design??? Is of the best quality I have seen in a paperback for a long time. The cover photo's jump out at you and there is even a picture of William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys on the back cover. They are one of my favorite gospel groups. The pages are a glossy nice texture and feel, I really like it. I would not have expected that in a paperback. It even has color pictures inside, what beautiful dogs....I want one ! !
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend. EXCELLENT READ ! !
Because nothing adds value to a book about dog breeding like a photo of some guy from a gospel group. This second post caused some questioning (and laughter) among the regulars, resulting in the third footfall:
D:3) For you're info; I purchased the book here from Abebooks. After reading this wonderful story and enjoying the book and picture's I may just purchase the limited edition as a collectors item. I have several books of this nature. With all this controversy that book may just amount to something. There is the paperback on Amazon and Abebooks listed for $18.95. Please keep you're comments to the review of the book and not personal attacks. I wrote how I felt about the book. It seems as though the Author's enemies she talks about have found there way here into a simple book review? These must be some awsome animals to stirr this much emotion and jealousy. Thanks for validating her story of being a truly great memoir.
The price is at last mentioned. No website or isbn, though. Low marks for both spelling and logic.

E) B--h the c--s and c-- l--s, new Indian book on extremism.
M-- P--’s novel led me to a refreshing literary experience. One should keenly observe the author's insight in the Indian culture and traditions while reading this book. Two ancient characters have been used in this book, as a metaphor, as the hero and heroine. Arjuna was an ideal fighter in Mahabharatha, in the eternal battle between right and wrong, where as Ahalya represents a curse befallen society which awaits a stone like persistence.
Novel excerpts
"Amma, why are some people very rich and some poor?" Arjunan asked his mother as he wept. "Why do the strong inflict the weak? Isn’t it unjust? How humble Meenakshi was, Amma. Why did they kill her?"
"Son, one does what he has to do in each lifetime, and if he does it selflessly, without regard for gain or loss, he may finally rest in perfection and be free of the cycles of birth and death. What we suffer in this life is the outcome of our actions in previous lifetimes," his mother had said, quoting from the Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God and its views on human nature and the purpose of life, and hugging him. Arjunan did not understand her fully. He felt Amma was just consoling him as she always did.
"Amma, I will fight injustice when I grow up," Arjunan had told his mother before he fell asleep.
Many more excerpts were provided. Many. Points for honesty, though the plot remains vague. This one posted two or three times, in different forums, but never engaged in discussion. I was told he posted on other book discussion boards as well.

F:1) Reader from across the pond
I've just found a new - new to me anyway - author, J-- C--, and been blown away by this guy's talent. Amazon (UK) has a number of great reviews but until I read his book, A--A M--E, I knew nothing of his work. Read the review I sent to Amazon below, first time I ever sent in a review, and check out C--'s web-site:
My review follows:
How refreshing to read a crime novel where the lead detective, a prerequisite of the genre, is not a middle-aged male with commitment deficiencies, a maverick approach to the job, problems with his superiors, a private life based around excessive alcohol consumption and an understandably solitary home background.
A--a M--e is refreshing for this reason alone, but for so much more as well. In the character of Donna we have a female lead who manages to be simultaneously feisty yet feeble, opinionated but doomed to bow to the opinions of others and a free spirit who is obliged to conform to the wishes of her elders. I adored the complex characterisation of Donna, wonderfully portrayed by the author. I have already read J-- C--'s debut novel and have been a fan since then, but this new book transcends even M--'s B--y in the breadth of its scope and the sheer quality of the writing. The action shifts from Merseyside to Kent and across an entire Continent until we reach the final denouement in the remote wastes of the High Atlas. Few authors would have the breadth of imagination to attempt a novel of such diversity and fewer still would have the ability to carry it off.
J-- C-- does everything with such style; his descriptive passages are masterpieces of the written word where the reader feels as if he is actually present such is the quality of the writing and the dialogue leaps from the page, the precise nature of each character being immediately apparent to the reader.
I have passed my copy of A--a M--e to my wife who is now chiding me for my failure to enthuse about the delicate balance between humour and sheer naked terror which are characteristic of the author. Suffice it to say that on several occasions I laughed out loud while reading this book and was also frequently transported to a state of naked fear at the savage ferocity of the arch-villain Marcus. The return of Marcus is reason enough to buy this book - he is a character whose every appearance on the page induces a mixture of delight and horror on the part of the reader.
Check out the author's website I found it through a search on Google. It appears that a third book is on the way.
This has been only the second time I have submitted a review of a novel and I fear my poor efforts have been woefully inadequate in conveying my sheer delight on reading the book. Buy it! Read it! Enjoy! A masterpiece of the genre by a writer at the height of his creative powers.
F:2) My God, I thought I was the only fan of J-- C-- to be praising this man to the skies, another Brit as well by the sound of it. I can only agree with every word you say, this is a special writer, a great story-teller who manages to combine the pace and power of a thriller with great sensitivity and humour. All my friends, both sexes and a couple in-betweens, agree he is a great find. I have devoured both his books and have heard there is a third on the way. Read samples on the website and join the ranks of the converted. By the way, J-- C-- is from England, but don't let that put you off - so was Charles Dickens!
Ah, the sock-puppet duet. Considerably more plot information than the standard, but such a jumble I don't come out with any idea what's going on. Donna's character is explained 3 times, without clarifying it. Not a good sign for the book. Website and means of ordering included, but no price or isbn.

G) New Sci-Fi Thriller:The E--d of T--e
For those who enjoy a good sci-fi novel check out The E--d of T--e by R-- T--.
"The E--d of T--e is a new story based on an old idea: good versus evil, but R-- has made this a totally different story. It's a tale of two lovers torn apart by evil, the story of what man must suffer before he can know true happiness, the "truth" of why we are here. Overall, it is a good, fast paced story, with interesting characters, an epic battle and a satisfying ending. The often-written good versus evil story is done in an interesting enough way to make it stand out from other stories of a similar genre, and the plot moves with speed and it's hard to put it down."
This is notable for its complete absence of plot information, as well as website or ordering information. Forumites pointed out that this blurb three times describes the story as old; possibly not the best sales technique. And it's about good versus evil. Well, who should I root for?

H) A B--'s N--e,,,By S-- Q--,,,
Can Anyone offer information on the Book "A B--'s N--e" by S-- Q--. There is alot happening with it on Ebay, Item number 6955540106. But no one seems to know much about it or the writter. People have been saying it has some kind of major Masonic Story written into it? Can anyone help??
People are blind only until they have been shown the light. "Feedback, if you notice, the book has been selling not only on ebay, but through other online stores. There is alot happening with this book, but no one knows what. No one has posted feedback because the Author is not sending the books out until the auction finishes. He's a smart guy, but he "If he is a he" won't talk. We know for a fact that he will be in the states this fall and that interest is high. Book dealers are buying this book. There is something fishy going on. We also know that he's knocked back a book deal from a large publishing house. Time will tell. If his words are right some lucky people will be laughing. Oh And on the note of Harry Potter, His dedication page has a direct thanks to JK Rowling. WHY..... He was the man who paid over 20K for a First edition Potter Book.
This post led to an extended duet, as the author showed up to complain about the sock spreading his name all over the web. (His finding it was a neat trick, since as far as I can tell ABE posts don't show up on google, and the forum search function is...erratic at best.)

I) I have very much liked N--e H--l of the A--n by P-- J--, a slightly weird novel set on a small Greek island.
There is a nice balance between humour and exploration of deeper issues, and some fine descriptions of the natural environment.
This is not some sickly sweet fantasy of life in a sunny paradise, rather a mixture of many authentic ingredients that will make you think more deeply about yourself and relating with others.
The message of the story seems to be that there is hope for any of us to find a rewarding life, through struggle and compassion.
A very worthwhile read.
The best I can say about this one is that it included the author's name. No plot, no website, no ordering info.

J) Please help trying 2find
hi hope some1 can help me. i'm trying 2 find this book 4 me grandad but cant seem 2 find it. nebody got ne ideas where i can find it?
Its called:
B--y S--n R.N The t--e s--y
by T-- R--
i fink the ISBN is 0------9
I laughed and laughed. How sweet, he wants it for his grandad, and all he has to go on is the isbn. The child must be a math whiz, if he can keep those digits in his head. Are all the cool text-messaging kids using cockney pronunciation now?

K) The H--d M--e
I have read an advance copy of a recently published book called The H--d M--e (ISBN 0------0) and consider it to be exceptional. It is the story of young teenager who gets ensnared by a strange underground colony - really a sort of Georgian time capsule - but with some horrific guardians called the "Styx".
The prose is well written and efficient, and it has the feel of a classic children's story (a little nasty in places) without being dated in any way. The copy I have, the paperback edition, is very nicely designed with eight colour pictures in the middle. I think this book could be a great investment if it gets picked up by a mainline publisher, as it deserves to be. If you look on the publisher's website (, it appears to have been self-published and is only available in very limited numbers. Has anyone else come across this book?
Short answer: no. Points for plot information, perhaps the most so far, and description of the book. Realistically, though, the only way someone gets an "advance copy" of a self-published book is by knowing the author (it's the only way you're getting a copy of mine, bucko), so the disingenousness about "appears to have been" is a bit much.

L:1) here is one book I've internalized...completely...Pr--l D--r: 6 S--e S--s that turn dreams into reality. This book tells you exactly how to create. And it's not ideas and motivational concepts or things like, "think gratefully" or "go with the flow." This book is six steps. You do the steps and you create, consistently. Since reading this book, I've met others who meet regularly to share and rave about this Practice. There is this whole world of people who literally wake up every day and know exactly how to create the day they want. This book has got to be the best kept secret. You can absolutely manifest anything, but like the book tells you, this is the easy part. The really miraculous part is all the great things that happen along the way. For example, I lost weight, I now sleep like a log and when I wake up, I'm excited. I mean really excited, like a kid before xmas. I want everyone to find out about this book. Like I say, there's a huge community of P--l D--s who keep in touch and keep sharing all the things they create. This isn't a feel good, but it doesn't work, so later you forget about it, kind of book. It works. I will go so far as to say that you will experience something wonderful before the second chapter. I know you will slam the book shut in the first chapter and just do it! Because you'll feel different. And if you know anyone struggling in their life, this is the greatest gift you can get them. Someone on the forum, I can't remember who, said that if there was a fire, what book would you snatch. This is it. I had to work through the first step in the book for a while, but I experienced unbelievable "ah-hah" moments and since then, I don't worry about what others think any more--a huge old fear of mine--gone! I'm not wasting my life, I'm creating it. Before this book, almost everyone I knew had seen the movie "What the Bleep do we know" and was raving about it. I've was "so-so" about it. I'm not really into all that positive thinking, motivational bunk. Now, here I am telling you that you absolutely must check out this book. I am doing what I can to let everyone know about it. Like the book says, "You must decide for those beliefs that most benefit your life and find your own truth in doing. For it is in doing that we leap from rationality to the experience of enlightenment."
Questions were asked about the poster's motives. Another sock leapt up to defend:
L:2) I just finished the book, and for me the content overrides bad grammar/editing. I found it invaluable on a personal level and will continue to practice what i've learned from it.
BTW, i did a search for G-- and came up empty for other publications so it is possible that G-- is not an experienced writer, just a "p--l d--r" that has priceless knowledge they wanted to share with with others like me, who devoured it.
And this one is honest, at least. But never came back to discuss her book or any others, though she does provide rather a lot of plot, comparatively (there are also terrorists and FBI agents, but I suppose those were too petty to mention), along with the expected website.
She may have meant five-star Amazon-type reviews, but alas! she got honest ones, and only on that thread.

M) I have just completed my first novel and am hoping I can get a few people to read the book and to review it for me. It would be so helpful.
It is a P.O.D. for all the obvious reasons mainly the impossibility of ever being noticed in my lifetime.
It is called The P--t D--s, a retro tale of a female growing up in the 50s and spans 30 years. It is a novel set to the music of the times and is located in Chicago, San Francisco and Oahu. The lead character is on a roller coaster ride- anniliated by love she cannot have and an array of unusual characters. She bucks the system looking for "mr. right catch" and gets in some legal troubles. She is a bridal fashion designer and seamstress.
I am a baby boomer and I think the book would most likely be appreciated by female boomers.
If I can get any review help, I would just love it!
I can e-mail the entire book or it can be purchased on most book store selling sites.
Yours Truly,
M-- J--

I hope you are amused. The forum even had its own miniature version of the R*ck*ids flamewar, spread over three (or five, depending how you count) threads. But that's another story.