Friday, February 27, 2009

Mary Sue Gets Dressed

The opening scene of Essence of Angel takes place in the local roadhouse, present day. Vivianne is sitting at the bar. Let me show you what she is wearing:

She wore an extremely full gown of gunmetal grey silk. It looked so out-of-place at the bar. Probably ten meters of silk went into that skirt. But the bodice was low-cut, and the sleeves were long. Some of the hair was tied back out of her face, and the rest hung in long golden waves down her back.

Oh dear. And this is a person who, according to about ten chapters later, doesn't want to stand out?

She wore a grey sweatshirt and jeans. Her sandals seemed a bit light and
casual for April in Toronto, without even thick soles to insulate her feet
from the pavement, but at least they looked like the sort of thing she could
walk around in.

Much more believable.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Type, type, type, type, type, type

I might have mentioned I've been typing out Essence of Angel. I’m trying to do 10K per week. Typing it serves two purposes:

  • I can fit it on a CD or a USB key and stick it in my fire safe, and eventually in 10 years when everything is typed, I will no longer need the giant filing cabinet (yeah, right)
  • I can edit it if it’s typed; I can't really edit longhand

I’ve got about 41K. Text ColorLast night I was typing chapter 18, and I realized, if I broke the chapter in half and moved part of Chapter 13 (which is exceptionally long -- maybe 5K) into the middle, then a lot of character actions would make more sense. Except it would entail rewriting the first part of Chapter 13, and then I'd have to give Chapter 14 a completely different reason to be there...

You'd think that would be disheartening. All I thought was "Yay, I'm moving things around again!"It makes me feel like I'm really editing.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The Polysyllabic Spree" by Nick Hornby

Why I read it: Nadine recommended it. (She also had lent me "About a Boy" the movie, which is based on a Nick Hornby book, and "Slings and Arrows" which is a TV show with nothing to do with Nick Hornby which I watched Season 1, Disk 1 of on the weekend, and really liked).

Tastes like chicken: It's not fiction, it's not non-fiction. It's a collection of essays from Believer magazine where every month he wrote a list of what books he bought, and what he read. It's very funny.

Bookmark: Store receipt from when I traded in something I got two of, and got this for 5-cents difference.

What I liked: His approach to literature is refreshing because it's not snobby at all. Either he liked a book, or he didn't. And there were plenty he abandoned.

Not so much: Too short.

Lessons learned: He spent an entire month on David Copperfield, and he read some books that are less literary, but also a good mix of bio and memoir and the like.

I would be more than willing to read some of his fiction. He's an entertaining writer. Maybe I'll request "About a Boy" from the library.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mary Sue at the Zoo

I have a note at the bottom of my computer that says "Despair is an integral part of the rewriting process." I think I got it from somewhere via Justine Larbalestier. Anyway, I'm pretty sure other people don't suffer this much despair. What was I thinking? How is this story ever going to work? I can see now why I don't try editing things, like, ever. On first glance it looked good, but WTF? So many scenes missing. So many unnecessary scenes written.

Yesterday we went to the zoo (the boy sulked his way through the outing, carrying his coat even though it was -1, because teenagers are impervious to cold). One of the animals we saw was the golden lion tamarin. And I thought to myself, Vivianne could have hair that color. Then she would be a Mary Sue.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Vivianne is one of the main characters of Essence of Angel. Today I am wondering if she is a Mary Sue.

I just watched a travel program about northern Iran on BBC. Apparently Zoroastrians don't believe in burying their dead, because it pollutes the earth, or in cremating them, because it pollutes the air. So instead, they used to take their dead to this tower outside the city and leave them for the vultures. That's awesome.

Every six months they would switch to "the other tower" and sweep all the bones into a pit, and then dump acid on them or something. Not so environmentally friendly, I'm thinking.

Unfortunately, due to a decline in the Zoroastrian population, a lot of the vultures have moved on. Now they bury their dead in graves lined with concrete.

If Vivianne had a pet vulture, then she would be a Mary Sue.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Mistborn" by Brandon Sanderson

Why I read it: One of Ed's coworkers lent it to him. He was raving about the neatness of the magic, so I picked it up when he was done. Ed has subsequently read the sequel and bought book 3 in the series, though he lent it to that previously mentioned coworker, and I don't think he's got it back to read yet. BS is apparently currently working on the final installment in The Wheel of Time, so it was interesting to see what he's done before.

Tastes like chicken: Some Raymond E. Feist books I read years ago.

Bookmark: Chapters receipt for gift cards.

What I liked: Ed was right, the magic was really cool.

The world has some sort of ongoing environmental problem where ash falls from the sky and all plants are brown. The social system is feudal -- serfs called skaa and nobles who claim genetic superiority. The skaa are supposed to not have magic (allomancy), but some have noble blood, and have one of the eight talents. These talents involve the ability to process (burn) metal in their stomachs to perform a skill. Eight different metals provide eight different skills -- push against metals, pull on metals, soothe or rage others' emotions, etc. Every once in a while someone has all eight skills (you either have one or all, never just a few).

Vin is a 16-year-old member of a thieving crew who doesn't realize she has magical powers until she gets caught while using them (she gets trace amounts of metals from the drinking water, or from eating utensils). Then she gets picked up by a rather high-end gang of master criminals, gets trained in magic use, and joins their caper. It's a caper that involves trying to build a 10,000 person army, kill the 1000-year-old Lord Ruler, steal the royal treasury, and overthrow the social order.

Not so much: Vin is a Mary Sue, and the male-female balance in the book is really bad.

Lessons learned: I read this after reading some of the "paragraph" stuff over on Ilona Andrews' lj, and it was interesting to notice, say, the camera moves. The fight sequences with all the magic worked in were very good.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gerbils: Choose Gender Wisely

The above quote is a headline in my local newspaper. When I read it, the first thing I thought was, why is my local newspaper now writing articles aimed at gerbils? And the second thought was, I didn't know gerbils could do that.


The typewritten Essence of Angel was up to 20,000 words on Sunday night, but Monday I devoted to converting the first chapter to third-person, and taking out the bits that are inconsistent with the mythology I'm building into the story now. That took my wordcount down to less than 18,500. Still, I wonder if the first draft might have been over 200,000 words. Must learn to be more efficient with my first drafts.

Yesterday we went out walking in the golf course and the grassy areas underneath the highways and major roads near our house, and wow. Toronto is just full of culverts. I think interesting things would happen in those. I need to get a headlamp. Culverts are dangerous. Watch out for thunderstorms, and lycanthropes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Essence of Angel

That's the title I'm going with now. Maybe it gives away too much of the first few chapters. I typed what I chose to call "Chapter 3.5" last night. Maybe tomorrow I will re-integrate it with Chapter 3. For some reason, when I re-started in 3rd person, I started numbering chapters again at 1. There are so many things I did that I did not think to explain to my future self.

Also, the chapters seem very short.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

This and that

So I said to my colleague, who was reading a book at lunch, "What'cha reading?" and I found him remarkably reluctant to show me the cover. It was this Robin Wasserman book. He was about 15 pages in. It was something his daugher was into. But what he said got me (other than the comment on the length, and the size of the text): "I could pump out 20 of these a week." Um-hum.

I rewrote the first page of QotU last night. Third person it is.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Does this count as working on a project?

A week or two ago on Dumb Little Man I read 10 Surefire Ways to be a Complete Failure at Everything (love the balalaika in the photo). Yesterday I put away about eight editing projects, so I can just concentrate on the one. Well, okay, two. Three. Because if there's any one thing on that list that I do, it's "Start 17 projects". And this killed some clutter, too! Though I bet no one else thinks the dining room seems tidier, I know it is.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do about that sudden restart part way through Chapter 3. Though last night I was looking in my filing cabinet, trying to figure out how long this thing is (answer: no way to tell, I don't seem to have believed in numbering pages on this project), and I came across a stack of sheets, one per scene, with Goal, Resolution, New Goal type information on them. Wow. Back in the olden days, I sure was diligent.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

QotU, Typing Chapter 3

I was typing away merrily on this novel that I wrote out long-hand and then put in the filing cabinet to "age" not THAT long ago. I didn't finish it this year, but it's not exactly juvinilia, either. Anyway, so I was typing along on Chapter 3, when all of a sudden the story stopped in the middle of a page, and then restarted on the next page (I wrote this in a series of spiral-bound notebooks), with the same two characters in a different location, maybe even having the same conversation, except now it's in 3rd person. What was I thinking?

Except that I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was having a problem with at least one of the 1st person sequences, and was going to need to revise it somehow. But this is going to be harder than I thought.

So I stopped and did some research. You know, when you type "Lucifer rebellion" or "Young Earth Age" into Google you come up with some pretty wacko (and contradictory) things. No viruses this time, like I got when I typed "Dolphin Sleep", though.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lacking a title (QotU)

So anyway, in my ongoing plan to get to Viable Paradise, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had gone into the giant filing cabinet. Eventually giving up on finding the short story I was looking for (it will turn up in three years, like that stock did, when I've forgotten all about it or written it off), I picked something I had fond memories of, and I started typing it, and wow.

Wow, it was a pile of crap.

So I picked something else. I've now typed up about 7000 words of a lacking-a-title novel. Not nearly so bad. That's two chapters, though. My theory that I write 40% more than I should is being pretty much proven out again.

That stinking pile of crap, though? At least it had a title. I printed out the 3000 words I managed to type. I think I'll keep it around for scene-writing exercises. Three thousand words of no scenes. My god, how did I do that?

Monday, February 02, 2009

"All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well" by Tod Wodicka

Why I read it: I read a review of it I think in Salon (though I can't find it now) and thought that any book with such a long title must be worth reading.

This book follows Burt, a man in his sixties whose wife died two years ago of cancer, and whose adult children are estranged. Burt is obsessed with the middle ages, to the point of almost always wearing a tunic rather than "normal" clothes, drinking mead, not driving, etc. He's gone to Germany ostensibly accompanying the Medieval chant group he was forced to join as an "anger management" tool (when he had a DUI charge whilst stealing his lawyer's BMW). Really, he's sold all his possessions and has no intention of going back to upstate New York (where he's been I guess living in the empty bed-and-breakfast his wife owned and ran). His intention is to find his son and make things right.

Tastes Like Chicken: A cross between "Darkmans" by Nicola Barker and "Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen, I think. Darkmans because of the energy, metaphors, and wealth of history on which everything in the story sits, Briar Rose because of the Lemko storyline.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

What I liked: The whole book is littered with flashbacks. Burt is really not rooted in this time, but nor does he actually get to live in his beloved middle ages either. His mother-in-law is not really rooted in the now either. They are very similar characters. While Burt is obsessed with pedantic SCA-type historical accuracy, his mother-in-law is obsessed with bringing back her Lemko culture, trying to get Lemkos a homeland (somewhere around Poland), etc. It's no more reality-based than Burt, and he thinks she's crazy.

The book is divided into three sections.
  • The first section takes Burt from his trip in Germany, on a road trip to Prague, and ends with his first conversation with his son in two years (the section ends on a fabulously horrifying realization).
  • The second section is all flashback to Burt's wife Kitty, and her mother, and when they meet, up until Kitty's death.
  • The third section, which is by far the shortest, has Burt resolve, in his own way, the mess he's made of his relationships with his kids.
Not so much: It was a good thing this book was funny (and I mean laugh-out-loud. If you've ever had a friend who's just joined the SCA, you'll laugh too), because the storyline was relentlessly depressing.

What I Learned: Thinking about it now that the book is done, the story started in the middle. And that worked. I'd like to try editing something I've written so it doesn't start at the beginning, but has more backstory.