Monday, May 31, 2010

the well-vacuumed cat

Lately I've been fascinated by the idea of book trailers, and their varying degrees of effectiveness. I've been roaming Youtube finding examples of dreadful trailers to snicker at, and gorgeous trailers to be envious of.
Here's the most snickerworthy trailer I've found so far--for Dark Curse, by Christine Feehan, author of the Carpathian series (loved by many, but for me best read out loud with friends and drinks). The company that created it is Circle of Seven, who copyrighted (trademarked?) the name 'book trailer'.
The most envy-inducing trailers are those by Maggie Stiefvater, who not only designs and animates them, she composes and plays the music. What impresses me even more is how she manages to distill her own story down to a few wordless images and still make it compelling. Damn.

Which inspired me to storyboard a trailer for Willow Knot, using silhouettes and (hopefully) animation. If I can ever sit down and animate it, it will be so very very cool. It might only take about a week, once the artwork is done....

While I daydreamed, Zoe Marriott, fellow Furtive Scribbler and published YA author, actually accomplished things. Once she dropped Movie Maker and went on to Photo Story, she turned out three fine trailers, and zoomed on to one for her unreleased Shadows on the Moon.

Well, then, I thought, what about The Cost of Silver? I've already gathered woodcuts and engravings as part of the research & inspiration. They're copyright-free, being from the 1600s or earlier. Couldn't I just string them together and--
So. Yeah. I made a book trailer for a book I haven't finished writing, certainly haven't finished editing. It's, um, an exercise. Yeah! In distilling the essence of the story. Yeah!

The music is La Confrerie d'Ailes, from the album Les Brumes du Passé renaîtront hors du Temps by Anamnese, which I found on Jamendo. I'm kind of torn between it and the second cut, but the cawing crows won out.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rain, steam and speed

Last weekend: The Victoria Steam Expo
This was a smaller affair than was hoped, with a horrible flu of some sort taking a number of Seattle guests out of action, and preventing the arrival of the Robot Squid. There were some rather good costumes, naturally, including a steam-driven robotic arm, which we didn't get pics of, and a winged girl, whom we did. I made an attempt at a costume, by digging up the Baron Samedi costume I made for Chris some few Halloweens back (minus the 4 ft tall skull-headed walking stick, because Mark and I biked down to the Empress) and borrowing Mark's vintage welding goggles. (but I must now reference Kate Beaton's 'Brunel is tired of these time-travelling assholes')

Cherie Priest was the guest of honour, and did a Q&A on the Saturday and a reading (from Dreadnought) on the Sunday. After the Q&A she signed books for the quickly-forming line, and after that Mark and I took her up on the 'ask me questions and I will talk' invitation. This ended up on the Verandah of the Empress (because the Bengal Lounge will not let you in if you are wearing a hat. T-shirts are okay, top-hats and turbans not. Hm.) for a couple of hours of writing etc. chat, including the 'seven-year overnight success' story, the 'utterly fortuitous rediscovery by a publisher' story, the 'never go with a micropress' story, the 'my early years of B&E and explorations of deserted buildings' stories. I would've felt guilty for snaffling the GoH, but fortunately Heather was one of the volunteers and chaperoned as well as contributing some great stories of her own to the mix.
See? I am working on the the schmoozing. But I'm only going to do it if it's fun. Which it definitely was, and you can add Cherie Priest to the list (headed by Mary Robinette Kowal) of 'people you should buy a drink/snack for and provide keywords to for hours of entertainment'.
Didn't get a picture of 'me with GoH', but I'm still too Canadian to be other than embarrassed by that suggestion anyways.

Displays & vendors were way out of my pocketbook's range, but I have to mention the Really Awesome Clockwork Trilobite by Randie Feil.

On Sunday there was a talk on Steampunk Archetypes which put me off rather. While I was amused by the theological hairsplitting between steampunk, clockpunk and dieselpunk (apparently you can adapt Victorian/Edwardian fashion as much as you like, but if your imaginary power source is diesel rather than steam or phlogiston, you'd better not call yourself steampunk, hombre), the narrowness of the permissable cultural influences was making me twitch. According to the speaker, the only 'pure' locales were London and the American West. Oh, and parts of the British Empire, if you were an Explorer or Engineer (ie white?).
Um. Yeah.
When questions were permitted I asked if France & Europe were acceptable locales, given that Jules Verne (not from London) was surely one of the founding fathers of Victorian sf? Which point was rather missed in the reply, which was that Verne, yeah, Verne was very important.
Given that K.W. Jeter, Cherie Priest, and Jay Lake (those just off the top of my head) all write stories that deal with the underside of industrial and colonial expansion and have multicultural characters, I hadn't expected this unexamined narrowness--maybe it's more an aspect of the costuming side? The speaker seemed much happier once she got onto weapons-modding.

This weekend: rain and clouds and cold. I've had a fire going most of the day and have moved my laptop into the kitchen for warmth & solace. Working on Cost of Silver with breaks to read Witchfinders: a 17th century English tragedy, by Malcolm Gaskill (narrative nonfic about Hopkins & Stearne). This is not cheerful reading, though engrossing. Gaskill fictionalises a good deal, guessing at motives and background, but as long as one keeps that in mind, I don't think it's a problem.
The thing that's hanging me up with research is trying to get a picture of how the witch fever tied in with the Civil War that was going on at the same time. Not psychologically, because I get that the uncertainty and disruption and privations of war would be a proper breeding ground for fears of intangible malicious influence. But physically, how the witch finders travelled through an England scattered with armed camps that would take passing strangers to be spies, and just how people carried on their lives. I probably need to get Antonia Fraser's The Weaker Vessel: women's lot in 17th century England out again, for that side.
Anyway, I will try not to blather on with historical witchcraft neepery, like how the suckling of familiars is such a particularly English concept, and how the concept of a contract or covenant with the Devil may have developed from the Puritan 'covenant of grace' to become a standard part of witchcraft lore. But I can't resist this anecdote--
Matthew Hopkins asked Elizabeth Clarke in what form the devil had come to her. Clarke retorted: 'A tall, proper, black haired gentleman, a properer man than your selfe.' Asked by Stearne with whom she would rather share a bed, she had no doubt: the devil.

My own particular bedevilment recently is the temptation to (brace yourself for teh stoopid) make a book trailer for Cost of Silver, a book that I haven't even finished yet, to compound the idiocy.
But, but, I have IMovie! I have photographs I took in Suffolk! I have jpgs of copyright-free woodcuts! And my cat runs away from vacuums, so she's no help!
I'm trying instead to channel this impulse for good by working further on the (provisional title) Chimps on a Blimp novel, which is at least writing, not messing around. Also it is steampunk, so I should be all inspired after the Expo. Also I have inspirational music, specifically Navigator by the Pogues, and Rain, Steam and Speed by The Men They Couldn't Hang. So really there is nothing to stop me. Right?

Next weekend: panicked speed as I start on the last (please!) revisions of Willow Knot. Somewhere in the cross-border mail is a packet of the first 200 pages of the mss. marked for trimming and tightening.
I promised I'd have the revisions finished within a month of receiving the pages, so I expect June to be a somewhat distracted month in the run-up to Fort Rodd Hill and our Living History week.
Especially since June includes a trip to the Known World Heraldic Symposium (and a visit to Seattle, yay!)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

rockets of various kinds

I promised a picture with the rocket in bloom, so here you go.

This time I really do have news to report. Quoting:

Announcing the winner and honourable mentions for the
Rannu Fund contest!

Fiction Winner:
"Foretold" by Barbara Gordon

Fiction Honourable Mentions:
"Little Escher" by Robert Borski
"A Swarm of Shadows" by Francine Lewis

Fiction Judges: Don Bassingthwaite, Nick Stokes,
Sandra Kasturi

Poetry Winner:
"Barren - A Chronicle in Futility" by Steve Vernon

Poetry Honourable Mentions:
"A Good Catch" by Colleen Anderson
"Manifesting Universes" by Francine Lewis

Poetry Judges: Gemma Files, Helen Marshall,
Sandra Kasturi
That's me, that is, up there.

In other writing-related news, I've had my 3d set of revision notes for The Willow Knot, now getting down to aspects that don't require the story to be disassembled and shuffled. The end of revisions may be in sight, she shouts, getting the telescope out.

photo credit: Mark Shier

Sunday, May 9, 2010

rocket, sweet rocket

The chair has been hung again, and as you can see, Nature has not been unproductive in the intervening year. You can see the first year's setting here. That's sweet rocket that's grown up since. The leaves are edible before flowering, after that they're bitter.
I'm really just posting to show you that picture. Have I any other garden-related news? Well, we had to buy a new lawnmower (first new lawnmower ever?) because the wheel fell off the old one--the plastic inner disc just shattered, in that permanent way plastic does. The table that used to sit in the backyard (visible in the video of the deer) also disintegrated, and I replaced it with a wooden table meant to sit outdoors, or at least on a patio.
The backyard is looking properly welcoming, I think, in this pause before Nature's goddamn bounty starts falling from trees. Bees buzz in the comfrey & borage & sweet rocket. It's been sunny both Saturday and Sunday, instead of devolving into windstorms the way it did last week.
Finally! with (lots of ) help from Paul, Shona, and Mark, I got the arbour up under the alba roses. That incursion and windstorms shifted the tall canes to cover half of the garage door--not an aid to Mark getting into his workshop. So I spent some time yesterday and today seeing how many of the canes I could save from pruning by tilting them in the other direction, to hang over the arbour (it was either that or detach the arbour and shift it to the garage door). To my amazement I got all of them out of the way, hurrah! though I'm hoping to encourage them to climb over the garage roof instead of drooping onto the lawn.
Have been planting peas and beans and climbers under the trellis alongside the driveway, and scattering poppy and canterbury bell seeds in the spot under the bay window. This means a return to regular watering, I fear, trudging about with a watering can early in the morning, since our hoses always seem to come to some premature end.

I am not, I admit, an enthusiastic or skilful gardener. One reason I prefer to toss seeds about rather than buy seedlings is because I feel more guilty killing a seedling than I feel when seeds don't come up. That anything does grow or produce fruit / peas / berries / beans / flowers under my hand is a source of astonishment every time it happens.

photo credit: Mark Shier

Friday, May 7, 2010

griping is just one service we offer

Disappointing things: I found a cheap cookie press at the thriftshop, and at Christmas I made butter cookies (with butter) and squished them through the press. Conclusion: meh.
The press was annoying to use, fiddly, sometimes requiring the cookie to be pried off with a knife. Some of the shapes didn't work at all. Fell between drop cookies and roll cookies in speed of application.
The cookies? Meh. If I'm going to use that much butter in something, I want it to taste as rich as shortbread. These were dry and not very flavourful, even though I used the brown sugar recipe. I ended up giving most of them to a friend who loves butter cookies. She said they were great, but that may have been nostalgia.
On the favourable side, one of the cookies looks like Snowy from the Tintin comics.

Just for Terri, some books you don't need to add to your collection (in my opinion, anyways). I'm swiping my reviews from comments I made on the book forum, since I can't be bothered to write up whole new reviews for books I didn't enjoy.

The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson, Harper Teen 2007.

The opening is pretty rambly and unfocussed:

JJ hears something bad about his family history.
JJ changes his name.
JJ wishes he could give his mother more time.
JJ hears another version of the story.
JJ changes his name back.
JJ thinks about getting around to discussing the true story of his family history with his friend.
JJ gets around to looking into the time thing.
The new policeman wanders around.
This is not why he became a policeman.
Nope, not this neither.
Nor this.
People play music.
More music.
Farm chores.

Shuffle and re-deal.
I think I may have given up just as the plot was beginning - JJ hiding in a cart or something. But by then I didn't care what happened to him.

See, I can be quite happy with a story where not much is happening provided what is happening is interesting. William Mayne's books can be quite low-key, but there's these wonderful loopy allusive conversations and interactions.
Ho! Maybe that's it. The characters barely interacted. I mean, they don't seem to argue or get into fights or laugh or tease or ... Well, okay, they mope.

I just checked the Amazon reviews. One reviewer says the story gets moving after p.130.

Paper Mage, by Leah Cutter, Roc 2003
About a young woman in ancient China who practices origami magic and is hired out to protect a caravan. But her real aim is to do great deeds and earn a peach of immortality for the aunt who paid for her training. The story follows two timelines, alternating chapters between the caravan journey, where one of her fellow travellers is a goddess who charges her with a dangerous quest, and her childhood training, torn between her aunt's plans and her mother's plans to have her married off.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I love stories set in China, and Cutter seems to have done a lot of research (some of it not particularly well-digested, though). But Xiao-yen is so dreary, always fussing about being an outcast, about losing her luck or not deserving it when she has it, about whether she should do what her mother wants and get married, how much she misses her family (even though none of them are pleasant or trustworthy and she's been living apart from them since she was a small child), and on and on.
I think she's meant to be touchingly insecure, but there isn't enough joy in her to leaven the misery, and it became a chore to spend time with her - what happened to the spirited, mischievous little girl we met in the early chapters, before she began training?

Another thing that bothered me was the repetition (poor editing?): at least 5 characters, all male, are described as having eyes that greedily or hungrily suck everything in. Every dragon, whether real or represented, seems to have a hard belly (of pearl, or scale, or embroidery). The live dragons all breath fire, which I don't recall being a common feature of Chinese dragons, especially river dragons.

With the disclaimer that all my study of Chinese culture has been at the undergrad level or self-directed (with all the flaws that follow), I should add that Cutter's version of ancient China didn't work for me. Chinese culture was sexist, no denying, but the sexism in the book feels very 20th c. N. American, in the way everyone tells Xiao-yen that 'a girl can't be a mage'. Including the other paper-mage-students, and it bothered me that they were so unconcerned about questioning their master's judgement, since he had chosen Xiao-yen.
Similarly, Wang Tie-tie, the aunt, takes Xiao-yen from her mother and takes responsibility for her schooling--that's quite believable, since Tie-tie is the matriarch (and runs the finances) and that sort of adoption seems fairly common. But then Xiao-yen's mother keeps trying to marry her off, or set up meetings with a matchmaker for her. Why does she have the authority to do that (or the fee for the matchmaking) when Xiao-yen's fate has been decided by Wang Tie-tie?

Oh. Yeah. And there's no transliteration note, so it took me half the book to figure out that Cutter means Tie-tie to be Tai-tai, a title not a personal name. Because she uses the X for Hs in Xiao-yen, I thought she was using pinyin style, and kept mentally pronouncing it as Wang ch'ieh-ch'ieh. I wonder how many readers thought Xiao would be pronounced Zow instead of Hsiao?
If Cutter assumed they'd know how to pronounce the X, why pander by spelling Tai as Tie? Why not include a pronunciation chart, when you have space for a suggested reading list?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

period pieces

A couple of recent reads, both children's books, both in historical settings. The covers make good use of old-style ornateness.

The Diamond of Drury Lane, by Julia Golding, Egmont 2008. Set in 1790 London, this is narrated by young Catherine (Cat) Royal, a foundling taken in by Sheridan and reared as the errand-girl of the Drury Lane Theatre. Her already eventful life becomes more exciting still with the addition to the company of Johnny, the mysterious new Prompt; Pedro, the young African violinist; and rumours of a diamond hidden somewhere in the theatre. Outside the theatre she is mixed up in (or mixes herself up in) boxing matches, street brawls, an ill-fated love, and risky political satire. Hair's-breadth escapes, sneering villains both high and low, balloon ascents, and more.

The Star of Kazan, by Eva Ibbotson, Macmillan 2005. In Vienna, in 1908, Annika, a foundling girl raised in a professorial household, is almost entirely happy helping her foster-mother (the servant who found her) cope with the eccentric professors, playing with her friends in the streets and gardens, listening to the stories of the old lady who was once the celebrated performer La Rondine, and admiring the breathtaking Lipizzaner horses. She only dreams a little of her birth-mother appearing and sweeping her away--until the day her mother does. Annika is swept away to her aristocratic, ancestral home. But why does her noble family live such an austere, scrimping life? Why is the gypsy boy Zed so angry at them? And why are they so interested in the costume jewelry that La Rondine left to her?

Both books are quite consciously period pieces, and make good use of the themes and tropes of older children's books and of melodrama: lost heirs, orphans, wicked aristocrats, noble-hearted poor folk, twists of fate and revelations. The wicked and the virtuous are pretty easy for the reader to spot and to either hiss or cheer. In short, both are thrilling yarns and good reads.

Both have foundling heroines with generous and impulsive hearts, whose friends and neighbours rally to help them when things get dangerous. Both feature a young boy who might not have been included in the source fiction (at least, not as the heroine's equal): Pedro the former slave and Zed the Romany boy, one a talented violinist, the other a natural horse-trainer. Both manage to avoid turning their characters into modern North Americans with modern attitudes, while still keeping them sympathetic for a young reader. The period and settings are well-evoked, including smells and tastes, and based on strong research. Golding uses Cat to explain anything unfamiliar, and Ibbotson uses direct address, an old convention in children's literature. I didn't myself spot anything jarring, and I'm fairly picky.
The two heroines are different, though I'd agree with those reviewers who suggested that each was surprisingly slow to catch on to the big revelation. This is more believable in Annika's case, since she's presented as good-hearted and inclined to believe everyone else is as well, where Cat is (or believes herself to be) quite shrewd.
Politics... Diamond makes use of the political ferment of the 1790s, the pamphlets and political cartoons, the crime, poverty, and corruption. Star presents a tidier, cleaner world, though poverty and class barriers are real enough. And hanging over all the action of Star of Kazan, for an adult reader, is the awareness that dear old Franz Joseph will not die peacefully in his bed, Stefan's dream of training to be an engineer may be twisted, and soon the Spanish Riding School will be evacuated and broken up.