Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I read -- March 2011

Considering what I'm reading now has 453 pages to go, it's unlikely I'll finish anything else in March, so I'll just post this now. Mid-month saw me go to the library one evening and take out two books, having already started Leviathan, and then discovering that I had two more waiting for me in the holds system. And then another one appeared after I'd read two of them. So I finished more books than usual.

  1. “World War Z” by Max Brooks. Library book. The Z stands for zombie, of course. This was a good resource for me for thinking about the science of my zombie novel. Also, good for looking at alternative ways of organizing a narrative. This is a series of interviews with people who were involved in different ways with the zombie war, so really it’s a collection of linked short stories.

  2. “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins. I had to take the boy to an appointment and didn’t want to carry around the big, heavy geology book, so I grabbed this from the pile. Everyone else in the family had read it already. It sucked me in so fast! There was a point about a hundred pages from the end where I was kind of bored, but the ending was right, the Snow/Coin thing worked, and man, I totally stopped liking Gale.

  3. “Leviathan” by Scott Westerfield. The boy got this for Christmas, and when I’d finished Mockingjay, he suggested I read this. The opening is fabulous, with Alek being incredibly gullible and the POV is very close, so I was kind of yelling at him. Illustrations were wonderful in a book like this. There was a spot about halfway through that I found so stressful I almost put the book down (Alek being really stupid and gullible again), but I pushed through, and it was totally worth it. The tension between the characters was great, with both Alek and Deryn having really complex characters.

  4. “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal. Library book I’d requested. It was a very quick, easy read that totally paid homage to the whole Jane Austen thing, where the main character needs to get married but has few prospects, only to find she had many. I loved the way Jane thinks Melody is totally more likely to make a good match, not recognizing that people are totally drawn to her talents, and that Melody is wholly aware that beauty fades, but talentless is forever. Jane is another fabulous unreliable narrator.

  5. “White Cat” by Holly Black. Library book I picked up because it was on the YA feature shelf. Reading this right after Shades of Milk and Honey, I was tempted to compare and contrast the magic systems. You know, a high school English essay question “both books insert magic systems into a ‘real world’ environment. Compare and contrast.” What makes a magic system good, I’d say in these books, is immediate personal consequence. Also, consistency. These two books were about small people within the system, rather than top dogs. I just read about the follow-up novel in Locus, so I'll need to look for that...

  6. “Liar” by Justine Larbalestier. Library book. Back when for a few short months Toronto had a McNally Robinson bookstore over at Don Mills Centre, I’d read the first 30 pages or so, so when I saw it at the library, naturally I picked it up. Wow. I’m really glad I hadn’t read any spoilers for this book, because it would have totally ruined the effect. I’m glad there was no back copy, and the flap copy was vague. This book was brilliantly executed. About 50 pages in, I was afraid the big lie was going to be something lame, like Zach wasn’t really dead or something. The twist was so much more interesting than that. And I would have found a white person on the cover to be incredibly disingenuous. Like, who the heck is that a picture of? Also, some of the issues JL raises in this story are issues I wonder about myself. Like, why is it always the girl’s fault when something goes horribly wrong? I mean, in this case... but still.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maybe I should change the tagline here

Last night while I was supposed to be editing Apophis for I don't know, the sixth or seventh time (I'm not sure it works, but I'm down to messing with the formatting now, so it's time to put it on OWW and hide under my desk), I wrote a post on the bottom of the last page. And then I packed the wrong story in my lunchbag! I guess I'm just meant to work on Bezoar today, that's all.

Anyway, this leaves me writing my post from my head, which never goes well, or waiting and doing it later, which never gets done. So here goes.

Last night I received the March Locus in the mail (which was a good thing, because it encouraged me to finish reading the February Locus, which had been sitting on the kitchen table for about 28 days, and so I read the Sharyn November piece, which made me want to work on the Karate Zombies, which will make Fran happy, if nothing else). Flipping through (first pass I look at the pictures...) and made some mean comment about Robert J. Sawyer or something in my head (I'm sure he's an awesomely nice guy, but sometimes I have unreasonably mean thoughts about people who are more successful than me, and it's an impulse I must analyze. And control). And then I read the accompanying article. And I felt bad.

Not about RJS. I'm sure he's fine. About the fact that I'm learning that H.B.Fenn, Canada's largest book distributor, has closed, and I'm learning this from an American magazine. Why am I so disengaged? How do I not know what's going on in Canadian publishing? This is a big deal, right? I mean, I read the Toronto Star online most days, or at least, I read the headlines. Was this big news at some point? I guess I should go look on the Star's website and try to figure out how I missed it.

I'm back.

(This part was not on the back of Apophis that I wrote last night, we're in uncharted territory.)

The Star has a kind of crap search function that only goes back 14 days. The National Post had a story, though, dated Feb 4. So I guess the simple answer is I read the wrong paper. Though the bigger answer is I should probably interact with people more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Bezoar: appearing soon to a slushpile near you?

Yesterday all day I had a plan. When I got home, I would make a pizza (the breadmaker was all set up). Then, I was going to read through The Bezoar and make any last minute changes before sending it out to its first market. Then I would make a pass through Apophis and send it to OWW. And then I would sit down and read 100 pages of Leviathan, and maybe work on that shawl, and then bed.

Well, the pizza went fine. I remembered yeast this time (yay!) and I had already made the olive salad for Muffuletta pizza. I made a playlist, and then at around 8:30 I tweeted something like “Pizza made and eaten, blah, blah, time to read through this story and send it out.”

I was at the kitchen table working on paper. Ed was watching his stories (Ice Pilots I think). I was on page two when that ended and he went up to run himself a bath. I was on page three when he’d finished his bath. I’d written a couple of hundred new words. I skipped to the ending and I think made it stronger. My characters had unclear motives, and I gave them a goal. I wrote in a couple of jokes. I went back to the middle and, well, it wasn’t too bad. The main action sequence is pretty good, I think, which is odd because I don’t think they’re my strength (what is my strength – setting? No. Characters? No. Maybe dialog.)

11:00 rolled around. I finished with the paper draft and went back to the computer. Some of the pages were so ink-filled, I don’t think I could have figured out what I was going for if I’d left it for today, or tomorrow, or more likely next month.
Midnight. I shut off the TV.

12:21 I got to the end of my changes and mailed the story to myself. I tweeted something about the best-laid plans, read the whole internet and went to bed.

This I would call a rewrite, a substantial edit. The front and back are almost completely new. It’s about 600 words shorter than before. I took out whole blocks of text – two paragraphs about a ceremonial knife that never crops up again? Really?

I keep reading on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog that he wrote this or that short story in four hours, and newbies shouldn’t bother revising because we just wreck the voice and the passion of the story. But then, he doesn’t have my first drafts, which are only there as a framework on which to affix my edits later. I wouldn’t argue that at some point The Bezoar drifted away from being the story that I’d envisioned, and that some of the editing I did last night actually takes the story back towards my original goal for it. But I’m pretty sure his model is not mine.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

In process: Feb 2011

First Draft

“In a Nutshell”. 35 pages -- first draft finished.

Next up will be Limering, And maybe One Degree.


"The Rabbits". I tagged all the Thea’s Brain sections to make them make sense, and I need to fix the pacing now. It takes way too long to get to the brain stuff. I’d like to pump the atmosphere maybe, too.

"Apophis." Working on fourth draft.






“Bezoar”. One more draft, I think, and it might be done.

“Dowsing”. I need to change the POV (taking what I learned from reading those Caitlin Kiernan stories, actually – she does a neat thing where the main character is not the “special” character, but is the one looking at them. I will try that and see how it works for me.) so that there’s an actual plot, conflict, etc. I think there’s a good story in there.

Imp face.

Being reviewed

Nothing. Again.

Morrigan. Ignoring, actually.
Anhinga. Finished. Worn 4x. Very happy with this sweater.
Doubleknit Fair Isle shawl. Eight stripes done, maybe 20% of entire garment.
Carnaby skirt. Started and finished in Feb. I'm wearing it now.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What I read -- Feb 2011

“Tooth and Claw” by Jo Walton. Library book. I believe I read on a blurb somewhere: “Is there anything Jo Walton can’t write?” And it is so true. This is a regency romance populated entirely by dragons. Dragons get bigger by eating one another, and yet the story isn’t really about cannibalism, more cannibalism is just something dragons do. It’s not taboo the way it would be with humans, because the dragons don’t see it that way. The father dragon dies in the first chapter, leaving the understanding that his estate (including his gold and his corpse) is to be divided up amongst his three younger children, with the two established children to take but a token apiece. The eldest son-in-law takes way more than his share and the others sue him. So the message is: be explicit in your will. And stand up for yourself.

“Sandman Slim” by Richard Kadrey. Library book, requested several months ago. I missed it over Christmas and had to request it again. I have a notebook where I write down things I want to read (many, many pages long – I am not keeping up) and when I read the flaps, I realized I’d listed another book by this author, too. It’s not a perfect book, but I must have talked it up whilst reading it, because the boy sought it out when I was done, and then Ed did after him, so everyone read this book before it went back to the library on time.

“Booklife” by Jeff Vandermeer. I bought it in December because Jeff put out a request on his blog for people to plug this book, in order to fund some other, probably less lucrative projects in 2011. I couldn’t exactly write a review on Chapters.ca without reading it. Well, not ethically, anyway. I wasn’t concerned that I would hate the book, because I’d been carrying the TOC around in my lunch bag for about a year, and I knew what it was about, and that the content would be useful to me.

At first it seemed oddly organized. Why talk about the public before the private? Why talk about your writing career before talking about writing? But then came the awesome ending of chapter two, about 128 pages in, and he said something like “If you’ve been reading this with an increasing sense of horror...” Why yes, I had. But I liked the assumption that I need to understand first and foremost what I’m getting into, before I get into the nuts and bolts of how to get there.

The take-away message was “be civil.” And that’s a good way to live.

“Snowcrash” by Neal Stephenson. I forget why, but one of my coworkers lent me this book back in November (though he says he prefers William Gibson). It seemed appropriate to read it, so I could give it back (I made it clear at the time that I wasn’t going to be finishing it that month, because of NaNoWriMo). It’s very stylish, but the characters lack soul – I didn’t feel with them. There’s a scene, for example, where Hiro goes up to a place where he used to hang out with someone he won’t be hanging out with anymore and has a beer by himself, and I felt like it ought to be poignant, but it wasn’t. Maybe you can’t have everything – you can’t have all that cleverness and wit, and also tug at my heartstrings. Not that I mind. Sometimes I resent being manipulated that way. The ending seemed murky, but it was a good, entertaining read with lots of humorous insights about the near future, especially for something written almost 20 years ago (!).

OWW: 1- Nov 13; 3-Nov 21 -- 4 total, which is probably the minimum I should be striving for... though double would be good. I actually learned something from reading things this month. I read three “early draft” chapters of a novel, and I could see the process the author was going through as he wrote. It was very different than my process – basically, he wrote blocks of exposition and text splines, which seemed like an efficient way to get things down and keep a balance, and keep things moving. I think I’ll try it on a short story, maybe tomorrow?