Saturday, September 25, 2010

time and motion

Last weekend Mark and I were in Powell River (the SCA name is False Isle, because although it's part of the mainland, it can only be reached by ferry, however you come to it) teaching at a small event. I taught four two-hour classes, which is taking it easy, since I usually try to teach the whole time so they'll have their money's worth for the travel costs of bringing me over (or if I'm paying my own way, so it'll be worth it for me - no point paying $100+ to sit around drinking tea, when I can do that at home for free).
In my free hours, though, I was able to take Stephen's class on understanding medieval music, for which I didn't need to be able to read music, yay!
The event was low-key and fun, with a potluck feast, like events from 20 or so years ago in Seagirt (Victoria) or Lions Gate (Vancouver). So I don't quite understand why I've been so slow and sluggish all last week. Either travel is tiring me much more than it used to, or the change of seasons is affecting me.
Anyway, that's my excuse for not posting much just lately. Although! Exciting things are happening.
Today I'm driving up-island to Honeymoon Bay to visit my brother and his family, and my (half) sister Darlene.
The first weekend in October, I'll be at VCon, organising the SF-Canada book table and being a gofer for one of the Guests of Honour, which I hope I do okay at, because I haven't done that specific job before.
The second weekend I'm driving into the interior of BC to the Golden Swan event, where I'll visit with my amazing and talented apprentices, Alis (aka Rajpal) and Lucy. The scenery will be gorgeous, as usual, and the nights will be freezing-bloody-cold so I'm taking lots of bedding and wool. Also bringing Deirdre, with whom I'm discussing apprenticeship--it will be the long drive part of the testing, whether either of us will want to leave the other at a rest stop and drive away.

Then--head down and write, because I need to have this draft of Cost of Silver all filled in and smoothed before the World Fantasy Convention at the end of October. I'll be flying out to Columbus Ohio, and there I will be meeting my agent face to face for the first time. She doesn't usually do WFC because it's over Halloween and she has young children, so this is a rare chance. I'm not twitchy about it yet, but I may be by the time I get there.
She expects to be hearing back from publishers after WFC, and cautioned me not to get impatient because publishing is a slow business. Fortunately I have something to distract me from worrying (besides doing revisions on Cost of Silver) which is ....

I'll be in England for the first two weeks of November. Researching, yes, this is TOTALLY WRITING-RELATED, yes. Mark will be at the London Coin Fair for part of it, and going behind the scenes at museums, so it's very work-related for him. I'm hoping to meet up with the UK Scribblers and other writer friends, so it's time I started planning where to go and what to do--if only there wasn't so much else going on to distract me.

December and January are booked for revising Cost of Silver. We'll see how that works out. And probably for deciding which book to work on next. Dark, gritty fantasy is my market presently, so mysteries and modern-day fantasies will have to wait, or be my backup if my first couple of books fail utterly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

fish, fowl or red herring?

Please remain seated during paradigm shift.

So, I was getting organised for VCon, looking for room-mates, checking out programming, and popping off emails because I seem to have volunteered to organise the SF-Canada book table (oh, yeah, I'm a year-old member of SF-Canada, did I mention that previously? by virtue of 2 short story sales to online markets). I went to the VCon website to see what had been updated.

Oh, look, I said to myself. There's a Writing Workshop this year, yay! Because last year there wasn't, and I was sad. VCon in 2006 was my first experience with a face-to-face writing workshop, and I really enjoyed it, plus got practice for the crit sessions at Viable Paradise right afterwards.
Do I have anything to submit, I wondered, running through my very short list of short stories, and shorter list of those never workshopped. And who'll be running the sessions?

I looked at the list and felt dizzy. There's Dave Duncan, writing since the 1980s, and Eileen Kernaghan, award-winning YA author, and a half-dozen others, but--I know all the names. They're names (not surprisingly, once I thought about it) from SF-Canada.
Of which I am a member.
I'm not up there with multi-published authors who've been writing for 20 years, but still related in kind (species? phylum?). Not ready to be on the pro side of a writing workshop, but--I think--at the point of it probably being awkward to be met on the receiving side.

Rather unsettling to be neither one nor the other, and leaves me deprived of face-to-face workshopping with people who understand sf/f. I suppose the only remedy is to keep at it until I earn my place on the pro side.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

into the wide world

Last Sunday I went outside very early to see if more pears had fallen. The sun hadn't risen, and the sky was mottled grey. I heard a honk, and looked up to see a flight of geese, not so much an arrowhead shape as an inverted checkmark, or a hockeystick (yes, they must have been Canada geese). They were flying low, so low I heard the beat of their wings, an insistent repeated fwish fwish fwish, like a small child doggedly learning to whistle.

I've picked all the pears and plums that I could reach, leaving about 3 on each tree. This afternoon I had a last bowl of blackberries with cream. It's down to apples now, and I'll have to race the deer for the windfalls.

After a last flurry of finding an almost entirely different list of books my book is like, and writing a few paragraphs on What Fairy Tales Mean to Me, I smash a bottle of virtual champagne over the bow of The Willow Knot and my agent steers it out to sea. Or to the stony hearts of a half-dozen NY publishers.
Hopefully it will not imitate the Mary Rose.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

done done done

Wrapped Archipelago up at 11:35 last night, with 19,700 words approx. Didn't quite break the 20k barrier, but getting closer!
I'd call this one 'Barbara does Jo Clayton', and closer to Trading in Ghosts than it is to Culture Heroes, which was more like 'Barbara does Ursula K Le Guin'.

I can say with confidence that it will NOT make the shortlist, but it was fun, so I'm not bothered.

Monday, September 6, 2010

despatches from scouts

I've just hit 13k and suddenly I know how it's going to end. Hurrah!

Now I just have to get there.

last written last night

Malina's head hurt, pain rocking back and forth in it. Her mouth tasted dry and sour, and her stomach rolled in contrary rhythm to her head. She let the bodily misery hold her and fill all her thoughts, keep out some thing worse, some thing she dared not let herself remember. Instead she catalogued the present agonies, the strengthlessness of her arms, the stickiness on her chin and neck that might be vomit, the old-fish reek of her surroundings.
Jofroy is dead.
The convulsion of her guts bent her in half, then rolled her onto her face. She coughed and retched up nothing but spit.
They killed Jofroy. Who else?
Because of me.
I want to die. I want to disappear. Jofroy is dead. Jofroy who winked at me and called me his mermaid. I want to die.
But she did not want to die, not quite. She didn't want the pain, the blood draining out, or water filling the throat and lungs, bursting.
I wish I was never born. Then nothing could have hurt anyone because of me.
She cried for a time, great gulping sobs that hurt her chest, a sorrow that needed no words or names to spur it, a loss so great she could not name all she had lost.
The only comfort that came to her was that she would die soon, when the fishermen discovered she didn't bring luck--what luck had she brought to her parents, to the scientists? (to Jofroy?)--they would give her back to the sea--her father--and she would drown.
Would they feel stupid when she drowned, or think it was some kind of trick? She could not understand people who did not admit empirical knowledge to affect their beliefs.
She ran through her despair as her sickness and head-ache lessened to bearability, and began to take note of her surroundings. She lay on a pile of nets, smelling of salt and fish and damp. It must be the hold of the fishing boat, sometimes full of silver-scaled fish wiggling and heaving. Now only her, and the water that slopped beneath her nest. It was quite dark, but that was no clue how long she had been unconscious, because she guessed the hold of a ship must be quite water-tight, and thus impervious to light as well.
I mustn't be afraid. They want me to be afraid so I will cling to them and do what they want. But if I'm afraid, I won't know what to do except what they tell me. So I won't be afraid. I will be clever instead. And I will stay alive.
Some long time afterwards, light spilled over her from a square opening above. Malina fisted her hands tight and stiffened her arms. She was only a little girl, but she knew about thinking. The voice that followed the light broke all her resolve.
"How can you leave her there? Would you treat your own daughter so? If she is the sea's daughter, what will the sea think of her lying there like flotsam, frightened and alone?"
"Doctor Soonan!" Malina shouted. "I'm down here!"
"I insist. Either you bring her up, or you put me down in the hold with her. I will not leave her unattended."
Malina could not make out the words of those who spoke then, only an abashed and resentful rhythm of speech. A rope sling came down to her, then shouted instructions on how to fit it around herself safely. She wriggled it quickly about herself and snugged it. Then the swaying, swinging lift to the open air and Doctor Soonan's embrace.
"Jofroy," Malina sobbed into the doctor's raw-silk breastpocket. "All bloody--"
Doctor Soonan stroked her back, the long brown fingers skilful. "I did not see, my dear. I had walked down to the cove, feeling somewhat uneasy about the others who might be on that boat, or coming into land by some other route. Yona did so poor a work of encouraging us to give you up that I could not help suspecting he was mere distraction."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

first 500 words (more or less)

"There lay my love among the flowers," Agnesa sang as her oars dipped into the glassy water. "The fairest bloom if truth I tell--" A pause with her intake of breath as she bent over her braced legs. "I took her in my loving a-arms, and all to ash, to ash she fell--"
The skin-boat skipped over the little waves. Agnesa risked a glance over her shoulder to be sure that the island of statues was where it should be, a green-black turtle-back waiting for her, its only visitor.
We might live there, she thought, letting the song fall into the skin-boat's wake. There's houses and all, and I'd not need to row for fuel. She imagined broaching the plan to old Gresa, and laughed aloud at the picture her mind tossed up of her grandmother's face, wrinkles doubling and tripling with her furious frown. "She'd lose her eyes and nose in her own wrinkles."
"Where have you and I dwelt but here, child," she said, squeaking her voice to an old woman's cracked register. "And what have you and I been but safe, safe while all the world turned itself over and threw its legs in the air. And now you think yourself so wise, is it, that you'd plump yourself down and take your meals and spread your bedding in the midst of them as perished? Well, you'll not do that while I live." There. No need to have the real argument.
Agnesa supposed her grandmother wouldn't live forever, but who was to say? All things had changed mightily, and it might even be that Death, that old snake, was stuffed full-fat and sleeping for an age or two.
On her right side a slender pillar jutted from the water, copper-cladding stained to a soapy green. Agnesa grinned and lifted one oar so the skin-boat spun in place. She slowed it with a quick practiced twist of the oar-blade and brought it to stillness.
The boat rocked light as a bubble as Agnesa shifted cautiously to look over the side. Sunlight shot down through clear water, depths dying it to gold-yellow, then green-yellow, then dim green. Her own face, sketched in grey chalk, floated above all, round-cheeked, narrow-eyed, her short hair hanging down like a flower's ragged petals. Her gaze jumped past that too-familiar image, to down below. This was the treat she gave herself, reward for the labour of rowing and chopping fuel.
Bars of green-gold light fell across a pathway, red bricks showing where currents had brushed the silt away. The path wandered casually to a little humped bridge with latticed sides and carved pillars. Agnesa sighed happily as a school of red-and-black fish flitted over the bridge, threading through the latticework. One inspected a pillar carved with a little peaked roof, and jerked away startled.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

weekend warrior

I'm all fidgety and flighty and for why? Because this weekend is the 3-Day Novel Contest, and I've just staggered free of rewriting my synopsis and a bio and a few paragraphs on Fairy Tales and Me, only to jump into making shopping lists and notes about characters and setting.
Yes, I will take a break from writing to challenge myself with ... more writing!

At present I have a setting of archipelagos of a drowned continent (cue legends of churchbells ringing underwater) after some ill-defined disaster (maybe Reality collapsed?) and two young characters. One is the daughter of scientists in an isolated research station, crippled by a birth defect that fused her legs together (and yes, the Little Mermaid--notDisneyfied--is invoked). The other lives with her grandmother, and is much closer to the Little Robber Girl in archetype.
There will be a scene where the second girl rows to another island full of statues of jet, of people staring into the sky, the former population of the island, and hacks chunks off the statues to take back for fuel. (Yes, this was in a dream of mine, and it was too weird not to use.)
That's all. It may turn out kind of dark, even though the sun shines a lot on the islands, beams sinking down through the clear water to show the drowned buildings of the valleys below.
And it may turn out totally incoherent. Because that is the chance one takes.

Next, because it's been a while since I caught up on this--

Recently read: Darkborn, by Alison Sinclair. First in a series (trilogy?) but works as a stand-alone.
Intriguing worldbuilding - due to a goddess's curse, the world is divided into two races (maybe 3) those who live by night and are scorched to death by the sun, and those who live by day and cannot abide shadow. The Darkborn race cannot see, but have a sonar sense called sonning.
There are a bunch of questions raised by this arrangement, in my mind, and some are answered in this book, others presumably in the next. A few I thought were handwaved, but maybe they'll be covered properly later. Overall the author does a good job of incluing rather than info-dumping.

The first book is set, as you can guess from the title, in the world of the Darkborn, who are wary of magic and prefer technology - they have steam trains and clockwork automatons, though Sinclair doesn't really push the steampunk aspect. The society feels early 19th c. Anglo-French - they even have the beginnings of psychotherapy, which I thought was a really fascinating touch.
Balthasar Hearne is a physician who also treats nervous disorders, married to a gentlewoman who is hiding her magical talents (she'd lose her place in society, already precarious by her marriage). When a former love comes to his door minutes before the deadly sunrise, he is forced to shelter her - only to discover that she is about to give birth to the child of a mysterious lover. He delivers her twins and realises that one of them at least can see.
After that, things move quickly. The mother tries to murder the children by exposing them to daylight (a method of execution among the Darkborn), then thugs come after them and kidnap one of Balthasar's young daughters. In the meantime, the Shadowhunter, Ishmael Strumheller, is set on a secret and possibly suicidal mission by his spymaster, the crippled Vladimer, which will see him aiding Balthasar's wife, Telmaine - and unwillingly falling in love with her.
Overall recommended, for original worldbuilding and attention to court intrigue and commoner politicking both. There are hints of the next book in the Hearne's Lightborn neighbour, Fiamma of the White Hand, a female mage and assassin, and in the risk of outright war between Darkborn and Lightborn, possibly encouraged by the mysterious Shadowborn (creatures of the wild Shadowlands).

Another in the Blackbird Sisters series - Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die, by Nancy Martin. This time, impoversished socialite Nora Blackbird is covering a fashion show for a revolutionary new bra developed by Brinker Holt, whom she remembers as a bullying, unpleasant adolescent. Murder (naturally) occurs soon afterwards, and the hotting-up of Nora's romance with Michael (son of a well-known crime family) is chilled by his becoming a suspect.

The soap-opera side of the series develops nicely (I don't mean this as derogatory, only to distinguish it from the mystery side) with Nora's sisters continuing their messy, complicated lives, Michael's mob connections being a real obstacle to their being together rather than just a fillip of bad-boy spice, and Nora's career developing rather than being in stasis. The mystery is pretty easily solved, but there's a fair bit of amusement about the fashion industry in between.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan, Random House 2010, book trailer here:

It's tempting to summarise this book as "George A. Romero does The Village" (I suspect Carrie Ryan felt utterly sick when The Village came out) but that would be a disservice.
Mary is a passionate, questioning teenager living in a walled village ruled by the Sisterhood. The Sisterhood teaches that there is nothing outside but the Forest and the Unconsecrated. But they are hiding a girl named Gabrielle, who comes from somewhere else, somewhere outside ...

This is an intense, harsh book. Ryan doesn't mute the horrors of Mary's world, and she does a good job of balancing the deadly and constant threat of destruction by the Unconsecrated with the immediate adolescent misery of hopeless love. The fact that Mary must be married and having children so young, that she doesn't have the freedom to date and break up and make up again, that the choice she makes will be the one she must live with forever, does keep her agony from being trivial, even to an older reader who never experienced adolescent love.
She also, I think, does a good job of handling the worldbuilding by keeping a lot unknown and unknowable to our pov character. Much of what Mary does know turns out to be lies or mistaken, so the reader is in much the same uncertainty as she is.
Where I might fault the book is characterisation. The male characters, Travis and Harry, are lightly sketched, and I never really got a clear sense of why Mary loved one and was repelled by the other. I wondered whether characterisation was sacrificed to pacing (the book is fast-moving) or a reflection of the unreasoning nature of her affections. The brother, Jed, is more fully realised.

There's a sequel out - The Dead-Tossed Waves - which I will almost certainly buy.

On a lighter note, Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer, Dial Books 2010

"Frederick Lincoln is the sort of boy who works hard, does what he's told, and uses his head. But when he's plucked from the orphanage to live 'below stairs' with the servants as a footboy for a wizard, that is easier said than done.
"Unbeknownst to him, he's accompanied by a mischievous brownie named Billy Bly. The wizard has forbidden all magical creatures from his manor. But Billy Bly isn't about to leave Frederick, and when they discover a hidden curse on the manor house, that might turn out to be a very good thing indeed."

This was a nice light read. I was pleased to find an orphan hero who doesn't have a Tremendous Destiny and isn't the True Heir to anything. Frederick has the old fairy tale virtues of hard work and kindness, and is duly rewarded. (I also did a bit of happy hopping to see the Belly Blind featured in a novel.) The characterisation is light, as one might expect from a middle-grade novel of 200 pages, but Frederick does have some convincing conflict, misery, and jealousy to get through, and some good friends to find.

The setting is after Sorcery and Cecelia, after the marriages and before the children.

With apologies to Terri for any inadvertant additions to her TBR pile.