Monday, June 23, 2008

drafty in here, hur, hur.

Other than reading the last bit over in the morning, to be sure there isn't some error that makes a nonsense of it all, I'm done with the third draft of The Willow Knot.
104k wordage by Word's count.
Tomorrow I'll muck about with copying the file onto this-here computer and emailing it to round two of beta-readers. Plus printing out a double-spaced version for Paul, who prefers hard copy.

This coming week I will be living in the later 14th century, where laptops are unknown, and where Linot is only literate enough to keep her account-books in order.

And now I'm going to bed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

not quite Schadenfreude

more like snideness. Snidery? Snickering at the follies of others, because I am a mean and petty sort.

Backstory: ages ago, when I was a diligent critiquer on a popular writers' website, I happened to critique someone's query letter. This was a query that he had posted supposedly in order to have suggestions made for its improvement.
I say supposedly, because he then snotted two of the of the three people who offered critiques. One was me, and yes, I was one of the ones snotted. Even though I was fairly polite. I didn't even mention that his thread title said "Me begining one page synopsis". I did mention that his (presumably) supreme villain's name, Farkwar, might be subject to confusion with the not-so-supreme villain of Shrek, and that his novel title was the same as the title of a well-known film, but with the word 'the' inserted. Also that the hero being a Chosen One with a prophecy attached was more than a little overdone and might need something different to attract an agent.
He asked if I was accusing him of ZOMG plagerism (sic) and said "I spent alot of time thinking of different names, and came up with them off the top of my head." a statement which seems to contradict itself. And asked why I was attacking him for "putting in the part of a chosen one'.

So I apologised and withdrew. Yet we kept tripping over each other on the forum. He posted asking whether Simon & Schuster was a reputable publisher, and what were their submission guidelines. Because everyone else was too busy laughing to answer, I posted their guidelines (don't submit, get an agent), but was ignored while he answered (politely!) everyone who was asking him if this was a joke or what?
Later he was condescending to someone new who asked if Tor was legit, asking how they could possibly question the legitimacy of Tor? I bit my tongue, or my typing fingers, and left him to his little joys.
Then he took exception to my comment on another thread that the Left Behind books made me feel icky, and said it was offensive to him as a Christian. I apologised for being an Anglican and not a real Christian to whom the Left Behind series was as scripture.

At this point I gave in and started to collect his follies, by reading his posts. I discovered that he'd been bright enough to turn down the contract he was offered by PublishAmerica, and that after being spoken to by a series of Board Elders, he decided to cancel his contract with Leann Murphy of Desert Rose Literary Agency (one of the 20 Worst Agents).
I chuckled over him saying "I am a big fantasy fan myself, but the only ones I have read mostly are Tolkein, King, and Rowling. I haven't heard of many others, but I am seeking to be a fantasy/SF writer myself."
I refrained from critiquing the chapter of his novel that he put up for critique, because I'm not that much of a fool, even though I could see several simple fixes for it. It was a massive info-dump as you know Bob:
“Yes, I already know this though,” interrupted S--. “My father was one of the leaders of my race, who kept this great secret for many years, including Tari’ who is now the besieged magical land, as well”
“Yes, I know this to be true, answered T-- shrewdly. But, I have not told to you the full truth during our studies together of that time, and before.”
This excerpt is unusual in that everything is spelled correctly, with no mention of 'faries' or of 'scared lands' or appearance of the beautiful phrase "and a new day will be born anew."

After that brief and glorious interval, we drifted apart, and so when I ran across a site that offered 'editing solutions' it took me a bit of work to figure out why the owner's name was familiar. Then I saw the spelling 'seperate' and it clicked.
We are a highly knowledgeable and educated firm that will strive to provide you with the most qualified editing services, along with outstanding customer loyalty. At --blank--, we will provide full research, copyediting, and proofreading services. We will also provide custom reprints of your manuscript upon completion of editing your manuscript, cover letter, resume or proposal.
Advertising logos will be completed as a seperate service, but will still maintain the same high quality service. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please tell us about your project today.

I suppose there are people less qualified to offer proofreading.
Maybe not.
A little googling revealed that he had previously self-published through Authorhouse, and that his fantasy (first part of a trilogy) was titled Dessert Rose. No, it wasn't about a cook's apprentice fulfilling the prophecy that she would save her land by delighting the sweet tooth of the Evil Sorcerer and converting him to the way of sweetness and lite and lo-cal. Yes, he misspelled his title.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

the analog web

This story from the NYT is probably being linked and emailed all over the place. All I have to add, which someone else must have said already, is that this is a Borges story come to life.
Also that it is massively cool, and that I miss 3x5 cards, which came into use in (I think) the 15th c. as temporary records scribbled on the backs of playing cards. Like other temporary measures, they worked surprisingly well and stuck in use. Anyway....

'In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “rĂ©seau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”' (NYT)

And 'reseau' can also be translated as fishnet, so the older meaning of 'web' - thing that is woven - is closer than it might seem.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

comparative recipes

I like to bake cookies and squares. I'm not terribly adventurous or elegant, favouring the old standards like oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, shortbread, and rolled cookies for Christmas. I have a small collection of cookie cookbooks, and occasionally add something from them to the repertoire.
Many years ago (thirty?) while in search of a recipe for butter tarts...

Pause to provide butter tart recipe:
-Melt 1/3 cup butter, remove from heat
-stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar,
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup or more raisins
-fill tart shells about half full, bake at 400 until brown and bubbling.

I found a little book called Chocolate Cake and Onions (Horizon House 1976). Also in this book was a recipe for
Economy Oatmeal Squares:
-Melt 1/2 cup margarine
-stir in 1 cup brown sugar,
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- press into ungreased pan to about 1/4 inch thickness, bake until brown. It will harden as it cools.

Despite the vague baking directions, which I eventually worked out to 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, this became a favourite. (I'll point out that when something consists largely of brown sugar, 'until brown' is not a useful marker.)
The thing that puzzled me, over time, was the purpose of the 1/2 tsp baking powder. There's no flour, so what is it leavening? Also, while I'm no kitchen chemist, didn't baking powder require moisture to work? Most cookie recipes used baking soda, except for oatmeal cookies, which had a tablespoon of milk in the recipe as well as baking powder. I wondered whether Marilynne Foster had left out part of the recipe, or copied it incorrectly.

My mum's cookbooks were among the things (like Christmas decorations) that weren't kept in the move, and which I regretted mightily. When I was able to buy a copy of The Canadian Cook Book (Ryerson 1953) I was quite excited, even though it naturally wouldn't have all the pasted-in soup-tin recipes and so on that my mum's copy had.
I got all nostalgic over the photographs, and 'oh, there's the cake recipe that always turned out kind of chewy because I dawdled over the mixing' 'there's the crepes recipe, mmm'. Then I found
Oatmeal Butter Squares:
-Mix 3 cups rolled oats,
1 cup brown sugar,
1 teaspoon baking powder,
dash of salt.
-pour over 7/8 cup melted butter, mix thoroughly
-pat into ungreased 8x12-inch cake pan
-bake at 275-300 until golden brown, cut into squares while hot.

There it is, recognisably the same in kind, in a for-real published by a major company cookbook, and still with the baking powder and no flour and no milk. Oh, and again the vague baking instructions, though this time with a temperature.
Well, maybe it was a Canadian regional treat, like butter tarts and Nanaimo bars. Maybe Marilynne (or her mother) got her recipe from The Canadian Cook Book and altered the quantities.

But there's the undeniably American Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies Cook Book (Meredith 1976), and its recipe for
Scotch Teas:
-Melt together 1 cup packed brown sugar,
1/2 cup butter or margarine
-stir in 2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats,
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/1 teaspoon salt
-turn into 8x8x2 inch greased baking pan
-bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes, cookies will harden upon cooling. Cut into bars.

I will mention that my dad's family was Scots, and I'd never heard of 'Scotch Teas' (insert joke about drinking tea with Scotch here). Anyway, here it was again, in another for-real, major-publishing book, with baking powder and no flour.

Another Scotch Teas recipe, slightly different proportions but same ingredients, was reportedly a prize winning recipe at the 1976 Texas State Fair. Googling brings up another from the C&H Sugar Kitchen, requiring you to use C&H Brown Sugar, and of course, baking powder (brand left to your discretion). Doubtless there are more, perhaps under different names. But all that I've found have no flour and no moisture (unless melted fat counts as moisture?) but do have the baking powder of no apparent function.
Is it totemic? Apotropaic? The remnants of a long-forgotten ritual to hold back chaos?
If I leave it out, the next time I bake ... what will become of us all?

Friday, June 13, 2008

public service announcement: writer specific

For the what, three? readers of this blog who weren't at VPX or XI, the deadline for applying to the Viable Paradise Writers' Workshop is the end of this month. That's right, you need to get your application in by June 30, in order to seize the opportunity to:
have your work read and critiqued by professional editors and writers like Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Elizabeth Bear!
learn the secrets of the writing trade from the pros!
FIND your tribe!
SEE Phosphorescent Jellyfish!
CHANGE your life!

You need to put together 8,000 words or less of work you want critiqued, whether novel opening or short story, (including synopsis or outline if it's a novel), and stuff it in an envelope with a cover letter and $25, as detailed here, and place the rest in the lap of the gods.
Do it. It's worth it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

other people's books

Becoming a writer--or maybe I should say, becoming a conscious writer--is supposed to screw up your reading. You become very conscious of what the writer is doing, whether you'd do it the same way, worse or better. You groan when they break the 'rules' and may be bitterly envious that these other damn writers can get away with it, why can't you? You feel smug at spotting the foreshadowing. And so on. It becomes very difficult to read as a reader, and not as a writer.
It may be that I was somewhat inoculated against that, by having been taught to be a conscious reader from early on. When your father teaches English, and loves to teach, you get taught. And hey, I was Daddy's Girl--my brother was the Boy, who would Carry on the Name, but I was the one who loved words and language. (The funny thing about this is that I kept the Name, and my brother changed his.) So my bonding with my dad was very much about taking stories apart and seeing how they worked, taking words apart and finding their roots and branches.
I've probably said this before, but this early practice made it difficult for me to take lit-crit quite seriously, because I was introduced to it as a child's game. Spot the symbol, name that allegory!
In other words, my reading experience was already compromised, but I didn't mind.

The best approximation I have of the shift from unconscious to conscious reader is what I experienced as I taught myself to paint, by copying Giotto and other early Ren painters. I'd had a vague idea of balance and composition, probably from reading the Childcraft volume on art, but I had to learn how to model, how to use highlight and shading to make flat paint imitate 3-dimensional form.
So I went from 'ooh, pretty picture' to 'hm, that drapery' and 'wow, trompe l'oeil shouldn't be that simple', and learned how to break down the illusion into simple pieces. I began to be understand what watercolours could do that oils couldn't, and vice-versa, even though I only worked with acrylics (and yolk, glair and size for medieval painting, but that's another topic). I started seeing how effects were achieved, even though I didn't have the mastery to achieve them myself.
But I didn't feel that this screwed up the way I looked at paintings. It made me a better viewer, a more active and responsive one. ('better' here means 'better than I was', not 'better than some other person like you', by the way)

Between revision sessions, and in that weird lethargic hiatus while I was coughing up phlegm, I managed to read a few books, though the TBR pile(s) still loom(s) over Mark's side of the bed.

A Telling of Stars, by Caitlin Sweet.
I picked this up at Munro's, because the title sounded cool. The cover art is by Martin Springett, who was the Artist GoH at VCon last year. My copy is signed, though I didn't realise that until I began reading it, because there was no Signed Copy sticker on the cover. This story is gorgeous. I mean that quite literally--the writing is lush and lovely and jeweled, like Dunsany, or Clark Ashton Smith, or Patricia McKillip when she's in the lovely-mode. The world of the story is full of prodigal invention, without being overwhelming or confusing.
The plot is very nearly anti-fantasy. Jaele is the daughter of a fisher family, enraptured by stories of the warrior queen Galha, who defeated and banished the Sea Raiders. When a party of Raiders murder her family, she takes her father's dagger and goes for vengeance, trailing the outcast Raider who cut her mother's throat. Along the way, she meets strange peoples and strange people. She tells them of her quest, and they feed her, sympathise, bind her wounds, tell her their own stories, befriend her and sometimes fall in love with her, but none of them join her quest or follow her banner. When she finally confronts the man who's been her target and (in a way) her companion all along, it doesn't go as expected, and that isn't where the story ends, either. The resolution isn't about her revenge, and it isn't about her falling in love (though she does both).
Not everyone will enjoy Telling (gosh, as if there's any book that everyone enjoys). Some readers will find it frustrating, and Jaele isn't easy to like, in her single-minded absorption. It's beautifully written, it's thoroughly imagined, and it messes with the reader's expectations. So much will depend on your tolerance for being messed with.

Firecracker, by Sean Stewart.
I have the UK edition, by Orion Books. The US edition is titled Perfect Circle, and Evil Editor has an author chat with Stewart. This book is awful damn good, is what. Not in the remotest way something I'd be able to write, which makes it quite comfortable to read (so I do read as a writer in some ways).
William 'Dead' Kennedy can see and talk to ghosts. In fact, he seems to be better at understanding ghosts than he does with live people, like his ex-wife and his daughter. While the seeing dead people trope has been heavily worked in the last while, the working-poor characters and setting take it to unexpected places. I have a personal loathing for books where poor people end up losing everything or are portrayed as hopeless aimless losers in the name of 'realism' (The Pearl, by Steinbeck is the former, but that's another rant entirely). Firecracker's characters may be poor, and may make bad decisions, but they're not fools and they're not pitiable. And it starts with a ghost and an explosion--you can't go wrong with that.

Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos.
Occasionally, yes, I do read non-genre books. I'm something of a sucker for adult books with child pov characters, always have been since I was a child myself. (I'm also a sucker for books that start with an episode of the characters as children.) Partly it was curiosity at how adults portrayed children in books for each other, which was quite different from the way they portrayed children in books for children. So, what I liked very much about Love was the character Clare, an 11 year old whose mother has a breakdown, and whose estranged father isn't paying attention. Clare's story alternates by chapter with the story of Cornelia, her father's girlfriend, who takes charge of her after her mother disappears.
Clare isn't totally believable as an 11 year old. I'd buy her as 12 or 13, but then she'd be getting close to puberty, and some aspects of the story wouldn't work--her crush on Teo would be less innocent, for instance. But I liked her a lot anyways, as a bright and vulnerable child trying to cope with adults who weren't doing their part. The story woke right up when she came into it.
Cornelia's half, not so much. Cornelia angsted a lot about how she wasn't amounting to anything, but everyone loved her, even Clare went into ecstacies over how Cornelia decorated her apartment, for instance. And she worked at a coffee shop with every regular so quirky and cute they must have come from Central Casting. Gah. All A Bit Much, Really. But quite readable, in a popcorn way, and I didn't pay full price for it.
By the way, what is it with the trend of book covers showing photographs of little girl's legs and feet? Time Traveler's Wife did it, and now it seems to be everywhere.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

sheathe machete, take out hammer

I have cut just under 26k from a 129.5k manuscript. I'm torn between a euphoric sense of accomplishment, and grinding guilt that I let anybody--still less anybody I hold in affection--read 26 thousand unnecessary words.
I am so sorry. Really. I will never do it again. The gratitude part just makes me feel worse about it.

The next step is to re-enter at the first chapter and go through, pausing at the angle brackets to hammer home various elements that were scanted.

Clarifying the material culture of Nomency and environs--I hadn't considered that the default tech level for a fantasy is, say, 13th-15th c. Western Europe. Willow Knot, being a Grimm fairy tale (Grimm 11, Brother and Sister), is set in late 1700s Europe, roughly during Kleinstaaterei, something before the time the Grimms were collecting stories. This won't automatically occur to most readers, so I need to drop more clues about the material culture, earlier on.

Establishing that religion exists, without making religion a big honking issue. I've changed 'the Dear' to 'the Dear Lord' throughout, and hopefully that will do most of it. I can't count on an audience who know all the words to I Know Where I'm Going.* I'm still worried that US readers (okay, humour me briefly in the delusion that I will have readers I don't already know personally) see evangelical Protestantism as the model of religion good or bad, and will be bemused or unconvinced by any faith less insistent. But there is nothing I can do about that. For sure I can't write an equivalent to 1700s German states without religion. It would be like writing the European Middle Ages without religion--that gives you the Society for Creative Anachronism.
That was a joke, but never mind.

Clarifying why Myl is paranoid about being indebted. First to another person, because of Midame reminding her how grateful she should be, and how she owed her aunt obedience and affection--which is part of what messes up her relationship with Alard. Then to any creature in the Maerchenwald, because the stories are pretty clear that if you take without asking, or take without paying, the thing you took is going to bring you down. I can't assume that level of folktale knowledge in a reader, so it needs to be reiterated beyond the once or twice.

Laying in the clues of Midame's 'rescue' of the unborn child, via what Myl witnessed and partially remembers, which is also how she learned to hear spells running in water--this will be a tough series to complete without being either too obscure or clunkily obvious. If I can do it, it will wrap things up very tidily.

Establishing that Alard and Myl do not marry for love, and maybe clarifying that no one of their class and time would expect to.
Alard marries her out of guilt, in an attempt to set things right, to close the question of alliance with Lusantia, to get an heir, and to use her supposed gift for unsealing. He doesn't explain any of this to her, so establishing it is going to be more than a little difficult, working from her pov.
Myl marries him in hope of freeing Tyl from enchantment, to restore her family's estate, and because refusing the king is usually a bad idea.
I sure hope nobody reads this looking for a tale of True Love and Soulmates. They do love each other by the end, but--.

Laying in the groundwork for the plot against Alard, the example of the duke of Valdosa in his extravagance and how he finances it, and the resentment of Fadric and others that they can't use his method because Alard forbids it.
Concentrating the exiles subplot on Lusantia, with Valdosa being the impulse for the regicide subplot. It may still be too complicated, but I guess I'll find out.

Building Truda's manipulation of the ladies in waiting, which will be tricky because it happens out of Mylla's sight. I laid some clues in Donvina's outburst, but probably not strongly enough.
I've made it more obvious that Truda is the one who tells Alard about the sweetmeats--did anyone wonder why she was so quick on the spot after Alard told Myl off and went off in a huff? And why Mylla went into labour so soon after Truda's posset? Nobody commented on it, but maybe that means it was perfectly clear.

Simplifying Baldolf's aims. I was still working out what he wanted in the second draft, and by the end of it I knew, but if I'd gone back to trim out the false leads, I would have started rewriting the whole damn thing and it was time to step back.
Resolution: never let anyone see anything earlier than the 3d draft ever again.

Doubtless there's more - oh, the scene where Lina warns of the witchcraft rumours will be revised from a simple meeting in the garden to a full-out fight between two of the ladies-in-waiting, over one encouraging the extravagance mentioned above. I've realised that I will have two 'shower scenes' and a catfight, and an unplanned pregnancy. Exploitation fairy tale!

Anyway, Willow Knot draft 3 sits at 103.6k, and I figure I can go up to 110k while filling holes and polishing. Ideally I'll finish that process before our pre-technological Living History Week at Fort Rodd Hill. That's the end of this month. Excuse me while I gird my loins.

*'I know where I'm going,
I know who's going with me.
I know who I love,
But the Dear knows who I'll marry'