Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Favorite Monster

For this blog chain post, the question on everyone's mind is: What's your favorite monster?

This topic was started by Matt, who's been writing a whole series on monsters and magical creatures this month. Very informative. Check it out! Michelle posted before me, and Margie will post tomorrow, on All Hallow's Eve! Spooooky!

When I was a kid, I wasn't afraid of monsters... I loved them! Anything that would freak me out was spine-tingling, bone-chilling fun. There were lots of monsters in movies when I was a kid. My Pet Monster, The Monster Squad (still one of my favorites. "there's only one way to kill a werewolf"), but none of them ever scared me.

Until I saw Legend.

Yes, with Tim Curry in that creepy demon outfit (seconded only by the creepiness that was tim curry as dr. frankenfurter. talk about scary! lol!). This picture doesn't do the scariness justice, but it haunted me for years after seeing the movie. That red skin, those horns, the cloven hooves! Scared the bejeesus out of me. To this day, anything demonic is still the scariest to me, and at the same time, the most intriguing. It's no wonder I write demons into my stories wherever I can.

What's so scary about demons, you might ask? If you went to catholic school like I did as a kid, demons were about the scariest thing ever because they weren't just trying to kill you, no. They were after your immortal soul.

I'm not the most religious person these days (though i do consider myself spiritual, i just don't identify with the tenets of most organized religions), but the idea of demons, and how they were used over the centuries in a propagandist way still fascinates me. And it's amazing how much time and work ancient scholars put into classifying demons in books like The Lesser Key of Solomon. Sound familiar? ;)

What's your favorite monster? Do you find demons scary, like I do? Or fascinating? Or do you just want to leave the demons alone to keep from attracting the devil's attention? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

WiP Wednesday? What's That?

I could look back through my posts and tell you how long it's been since my last WiP Wednesday, but I prefer hyperbole. It's been centuries! Whole forests have grown and been sawed down to make crappy Ikea furniture in that time. I think they've even added a new geological time period to the mix since then.

All right, enough melodrama. I thought maybe y'all would like a tiny taste of what I've been working on lately, when I haven't been busy with revisions or work or life or eating or sleeping (imagine how much writing i could get done if i trained myself not to need sleep. tempting...). Though it doesn't have a title yet, I've just been calling it "my aetherpunk". It ain't steampunk, it ain't historical, it's something in the middle. An alternate history with pseudo-scientific inventions based on—what else?—aether technology. I've almost got 30,000 words, and I'm hoping to add another 50,000 by the end of November.

Instead of a long, drawn-out explanation of the world and the "science", I'll just let the work do the talking. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

A bead of sweat slips off Sela’s nose and down her shirt, into the dark shining well between her— 

“Miles!” she snaps at me. “Time to go.” 

Blinking, I curse myself out in my head as I sneak out of our hidey-hole and follow her to the front of the car. Cain’t believe I missed the signal. Pa woulda skinned me alive.

With a loud huff—at my dunce self, no doubt—Sela yanks open the door to the next car. In the tight space between cars the wind rushes past, spitting sand in our eyes. The train hums down the flat-plate track, which glows a sickly green color ‘til the connection is gone and the train has passed. The smell of Tahoe aether stings my nose. I oughta be used to it by now, but it’s strong enough to make me gag, so close to the fumes coming off the track.

Sela, braver’n me by buckets, stretches one of her skinny arms toward the car coupler. I grab her belt so’s she won’t slip, and lean back toward the car. Dunno what I’d do if somethin’ happened to her. First, her pa would kill me, and then my pa would burn whatever was left to ashes. Which would be fine by me. Not sure I like the idea of a world without Sela in it.

“Give us some more slack, Miles,” she calls back to me. “I can’t reach it.”

Silently, I grab the door-handle and stretch a little farther. Cain’t see her face, just the orderly rows of brown scalp that show between her neat black braids. 

After what feels like ages, she pops back up next to me. “Time to jump,” she says.

This is the part what always chills my blood winter-cold. The train’s movin’ close to forty-five meters a second, fast enough to break a man’s back if he jumped off the side. But me and Sela, we ain’t regular men. All right, Sela ain’t a man at all, and she ain’t a true sorcerer neither, but she can use aether tools just as good as me. Sometimes better.

She hooks her leather harness to mine and we both grab our buffer rods. As if we’re one person, we twist the rods so the little symbols on the side light up and then we jump. Sela used to have to pull me, but not no more. As our feet leave the metal platform between the cars, a thin blue bubble of Coyote Canyon aether forms ‘round our bodies so I barely feel the ground beneath my feet when we go bouncing away from the train. The engine and the soldier car scream away from the rest of the train cars where Sela uncoupled them.

The left-behind cars slowly sink instead of hovering over the track of metal plates, the way trains usually speed across the flats the Trans slices through, like a pair of monstrous silver snakes. Without the engine to activate the aether worked into the plates, the train cars are as immobile as any mountain, and near as heavy. Sela grins at me. We switch off the buffer and she grabs my hand and we go running toward the back of the train. All the hot hours hiding out beneath a trunk in the luggage car were worth it. We’ll be eating high on the hog tonight to celebrate, and the Staters will be eating crow.

Pa’s already brought the dual-engine up behind the last car. The dual-e can haul cars from either end, but the Staters’s engines can only attach cars at the rear. Pa and the others was following us the whole way from Salt Lake City, only just far enough behind to stay unseen. Once he deactivates the aether field, the train sinks to the level of the other cars. This is where we gotta move fast, and get control of the cars before the soldiers what remain onboard do. If the Staters reckon what happened soon enough to deploy the troopers in the soldier car, we might be in trouble. But it looks like that train’s still speeding off toward Carson City and the mines at the end of the world.

Sela and I hop onto the dual-e just as it starts to rise up again, aether fumes wafting in the paltry wind that only blows the salty dust around, never cooling us off.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No Writer is an Island; Or, The Importance of Earnest Crit Buddies

For this blog chain post, Sarah asked:

Do you work with critique partners? How did you find your crit pals, and what influence have they had on your work?

I can't say enough about how important crit partners are to my writing. Neither could Michelle, whose post is here. Margie will post tomorrow.

I found my first crit partner in the same places I used to look for beta readers before I started "meeting" so many writers through blogging. Mostly websites like QueryTracker and Absolute Write. Finding readers there was easy. Finding readers I could trust took some time, but those sites also helped me to hone my query-writing skills, and learn the gentle art of constructive criticism. It wasn't until I'd been blogging a while that I discovered other people had trusted readers, sometimes small groups of them, that they called critique groups. You can probably guess that this was a huge epiphany. ;) 

Beta readers are invaluable, especially if they write in the genre you do. But even more important to my creative progress than trusted readers (and i've had quite a few over the years for evangeline. you know who you are and I'm terribly sorry i made you suffer through those horrid early versions. i promise the final version will actually be good, lol) are my amazing critique partners, Abby, Plamena and Jade.

We check in with each other pretty much every week, (mostly thanks to abby, who is the organized one) and offer our services. More than that, we offer an ear--a virtual one, anyway--to vent to, or to cheer each other on. It's nice to know that there are people who care about what's going on with my writing, when others in my life have begun to forget about the faith they once had in my writing career. (you know, non-writer folk, who don't realize what a slow beast publishing is. yes, those people. :P)

So while there's no way I could write without beta readers, there's no way I could function the way I do, and keep myself focused, goal oriented, without my crit group. They know my deadlines, and while they don't call me on them, just knowing that they know helps me stay motivated. And I can be absolutely certain that any comments they give me on my manuscript, or synopsis or queries, are meant honestly, and with my best interest at heart.

Actually, I'm looking for a new beta reader right now for this latest revision of Evangeline (any takers?), and while I'll always need to find new betas (even unabashedly soliciting them through a parenthetical in a blog post), while I'll always need new readers to evaluate my work from a fresh perspective, I'll never outgrow my crit buddies. And I'll never stop valuing their opinion of my writing.

Not only do crit buddies watch your writing change, evolve, they are a direct part of the process. I wouldn't be the writer I am today without them.

Thanks, y'all!

Where do you find your crit buddies?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wonderfuly Written Worlds

Yes, I meant "worlds", not "words". For me, a wonderfully written world goes a long way toward luring me into a book, seducing me with sights and smells and sounds and cultural differences. I can forgive telling, mediocre character building and even an abundance of adverbs (as evidenced by my previously mentioned love for Dune) if the world becomes real to me. Some of my recent reads have taken place in amazingly unique worlds, part of the reason I enjoyed them so much.

Most recently, Marianne de Pierres' Burn Bright led me through the inky dark, staying always on the lighted path, for who knows what lies in the darkness? Her Ixion is as foreign to me as it is to her heroine, Retra, but it wasn't long before the lights of the clubs, the spires of the churches and the spiderweb cables of the kars to come alive in my imagination.

Goliath, the third and (hopefully not, please, scott, write more!) final installment of Scott Westerfeld's amazing Leviathan series wowed me with the way it wrapped up the tangled plot-lines, even as it added more with every chapter. More amazing to me than the complex and loveable characters and more intriguing than the threat of a war to end all wars is Westerfeld's Clanker/Darwinist world. Between the Beasties and the walkers, there is no imagining this world the way of our own pre-WWI history, from everyday life to the war front.

I'm not advocating that all writers should go overboard with setting descriptions. That can get long and boring and doesn't serve your plot or your setting. It's a delicate balance. It's the reason I still haven't finished The Name of The Rose. Sorry, Umberto. It's part of the reason I know a lot of people couldn't get into Dune.

Not all books need to set the stage so vividly, but Goliath and Burn Bright are wonderful examples to learn from if you are looking to write a fantastical world. In both of these books it is the way the characters interact with their surroundings that makes the skies stay ever black, or brings the smell of the Leviathan to life in my mind. Don't be afraid to fascinate the reader. It's the reason we all want to go to Diagon Alley and get our own wand at Ollivander's, or visit Samwise in Hobbiton, or have tea with Alice and the Mad Hatter. It's the reason I'm so in love with my WIP.

What worlds have drawn you in lately?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can't Blog...

Reading The Death Cure. ;)

"It was the smell that began to drive Thomas slightly mad."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seriously, it gets better...

For today's post I'm sharing three books that I think need to be endured a little (AS IN, NOT THROWN ACROSS THE ROOM) before they get better. This blog chain question was asked by Shaun. Michelle's post is here, and Margie will post after me.

Dune. Arrakis. Source of all the Spice in the universe... Ahem. by Frank Herbert. I lovethisbook. But yeah, mostly the second half. The first half is mostly ponderous world-building, imagined book excerpts (which could be considered more ponderous world building) and not enough sandworms, dammit. Seriously, keep reading until Duke Leto is dead. The the spice really starts to fly. Enjoy the ride. ;)

Room, by Emma Donoghue. I know the subject matter seems a little gruesome, but the treatment is tasteful and appropriate. I can't say this is one of my favorites or anything, not like Dune and the next book on my list, but it's certainly one that needs to be finished before it can be fully appreciated. The voice is consistent enough to keep you in the story, and innocent enough to mitigate the full weight of the horrific situation the main character and his mother are in. For those who are still squeamish about the story line, young Jack and his mother do not stay in their "room" for more than the first half of the book. As disturbing as Room occasionally was, it was thought-provoking, to say the least. In fact, I still think about it often, and remind myself how thankful I am of the life I'm living.

His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik is one of my favorite series. Who doesn't love dragons? I appreciate how the author has put a twist on the traditional dragon-rider story by militarizing them. Some dragons are like flying horses, while others are more like airships, soldiers climbing in the rigging. Though I know some people find the writing style to be dry, old-fashioned, I like how well it compliments other novels fictionalizing the Napoleonic Era, such as those by Patrick O'Brien, whose series inspired the film Master and Commander. The main character's relationship with his dragon borders on adorable sometimes, but I can't say I would act much different from Will Laurence if I was confronted with harnessing a dragon as wily as Temeraire.

Hope you like my suggestions, but you don't have to take my word for it. ;) You can always see what other folks have to say on Goodreads. Cheers!