Monday, July 27, 2009

Brain Dump

Current Reading: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman.

Inspirational Quote: "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." -- Henry Ford.

Stuff that's been on my mind lately:
  • Comic Con occurred over the weekend, and I wasn't there. Anticipation (aka World Con) is going on next week. I won't be there, either. I haven't attended a convention since Ad Astra, sometime in the 90's. This is something I really ought to remedy... but of course, I'll be surrounded by the new generation of geeks and nerds wondering who the old guy is, and why he's dozing off during the "Steampunk: SciFi or Fantasy?" panel.
  • I keep hoping they'll invite me as a guest of honor, but apparently you have to have some qualifications for that.
  • I took my sons to see Harry Potter. They liked it. So did I. Like all movies, though, it wasn't much more than the skeleton of the book from which it was taken. It left so much unexplained that I think someone who hasn't read the books must have spent the entire time scratching their head and wondering who the new characters were and why they were doing what they did.
  • I also took Telemachus to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It was a movie full of explosions, bullets and the crash of heavy metal. And Megan Fox. It also had more plot holes than a new graveyard, and so many moments of fridge logic that I got frostbite on my nose. And Megan Fox. I was hoping for a story that made sense, but as Penelope pointed out, "then why did you go see Transformers?" And Megan Fox.

    Honestly, entire scenes of that film existed to show off Miss Fox's physical attributes. From my observations, adolescent boys didn't need to be hit over the head with her charms. They were entranced from the moment they saw her movie poster. I found it a reminder that I'm not twenty anymore, and look for something more from actresses than eye-candy.
  • As the company for which I work gradually dissolves out from under me, I find myself wondering what new careers exist for a middle-aged geek. I've decided to try my hand at freelance writing. I sometimes think this is the equivalent to saying, "I've decided to skip straight to last-desperate-chance, ignoring all the obvious and sensible options." Most of the time, though it seems like a good idea. John Scalzi and Kristine Kathryn Rusch both seem to do alright.

    Of course, I'm not them, and the decision scares the crap out of me.
  • My most recent submission to the Critters critique mill seems to have gone over well enough. They've pointed out a few flaws that I'm beginning to suspect are systemic in my work. This is good. I have high hopes that this one will sell to a market that actually pays.

    'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Show and Tell

Current Reading: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Inspirational Quote: "Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream." -— Mark Twain

Show, don't tell. If there's an older or more oft-repeated piece of writing advice, I can't imagine what it would be.

If a member of Critters critiques 10 pieces of writing in a week, they get an Award. I earned one last week. Ten short stories. Over 50K words read. Over 6K words of critique written.

It was an interesting spectrum of work, from very raw to quite sophisticated. My most frequent suggestion was show, don't tell. Self Editing for Fiction Writers has a great section on this, going into detail on when it applies (almost all the time) and when it doesn't (in summary). The Elements of Style (4th ed.) alludes to it in Rule 16: Use definite, specific, concrete language. Cohen's Writer's Mind: Crafting Fiction has it as part of chapter 8. Burroway's Writing Fiction has it as the 3rd section.

It's everywhere, but not everyone GETS it.

Example: "Rosemary was beautiful."

It's one of those tricky words. If I say someone is beautiful, everyone knows what I mean. It's a nice short way of conveying Rosemary's charms.

Actually, nobody knows what I mean. "Beautiful," is a vague word, a summary word. It sums up a set of impressions and presents a conclusion to the reader. However, the reader can't work back from the conclusion to the impressions that created it, and those impressions are important. Beauty is different for everyone.

"Beautiful" is a telling word.

As a reader, I'd rather read something like this:

Rosemary walked into the diner in a single, long, lithe movement that drew my gaze from the list of eggs done every which way. I set down my menu and stared as she pulled on an apron and tied up her curls with a fuzzy pink elastic. Her eyes were blue and they shone all the way down inside me until I thought I could feel my toes glow. She came right to my table, her smile turning to a laugh when she had to ask "What'll it be?" three times before I realized she was speaking to me. I ordered the first thing I saw when I glanced back at the menu. I ended up with rice pudding and a side order of bacon, but the indigestion was worth it.

The author doesn't have to tell the reader Rosemary is beautiful. They can figure it out from the narrator's reaction, and they know what the narrator found beautiful from his description of her. The author doesn't conclude for the reader, but presents the evidence in the form of images, word choice, description and action and allows the reader to come to the conclusion.

Do your readers a favor. Be vivid. Be concrete. Be specific. They want to see and hear your words within the theater of their imaginations, and they won't be able to do that if all your giving them is summaries and conclusions.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beach Reading

Current Reading: Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Inspirational Quote: "A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." -- Albert Einstein

I'm on vacation.

I've needed one for a while, but you know how it is... there's always some work that needs doing, and if it's to be done right, you must see to it. So for one week, I'm taking time to stretch outside the normal confines of my life and see some things that I've meant to see all along but always put off for more immediate sights.

Southern Ontario is a remarkable place. This summer more than many others. The weather is "unsettled," which means cool for July and more rainy than sunny. But the sky... beautiful layers of cloud: cirrus, cumulus, stratus lying in runs from horizon to horizon. In the evening, when the sun is high enough to fall on the tops of the lower strata and low enough to light up the bottoms of the higher strata, turning everything gold and pink and blue. Wow. We have hills and forests and the crazy broken terrain of the Canadian Shield not far from the palace. We have lakes (oh, boy do we have lakes... so many that God had to put a few on top of hills because he ran out of room anywhere else) and rivers and wetlands full of birds. It may not be the greatest place in the whole world (how would I know if I haven't seen the whole world?), but it is a great place.

Cassandra and I have been walking in parks a lot, conservation areas and provincial parks and just about any other place we can find when we have time. It's great to spend time with her because sometimes I can see through four-year-old eyes and the world becomes, for just a moment, a far more wonderful place than my forty-three-year-old mind is allowed to imagine. It's a better rest than a few hours in bed.

Although I'm giving some thought to obtaining a hammock because a few hours in bed out under the sky should never be considered a bad thing.

Just a reminder: sometimes the most important thing we can do for others is take some time for ourselves. Everything we do for others, for work, for family, for friends, takes energy and time. If we don't set aside time for ourselves, to relax and recharge, we'll soon have nothing left to give anyone.

So, here's to a few days off.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Book Reports

I notice a lot of visitors coming here via google with the query "book report [title]."

First: Welcome.

Second: If you're looking for a book report suitable for handing in to a teacher or instructor who is expecting you to read a book and think about it, then boy are you in the wrong place. The book reports I present here are short summaries of my reactions to the books I've read. They may be entertaining. They may even be useful in some obscure way. However, they certainly aren't worth marks.

Third: Stop looking for shortcuts through life and read a book. They're good for you. Who knows? One of them may change your life by sparking thoughts you never expected to have.

In Which I Fail to Tempt the Gods

Current Reading: The Best New Fantasy, edited by Sean Wallace

Inspirational Quote:
"The hag Sedition was your mother, and Perversity begot you. Mischief was your midwife and Misrule your nurse, and Unreason brought you up at her feet - no other ancestry and rearing had you, you freakish homunculus, germinated outside of lawful procreation." -- Henry Arthur Jones, writing to George Bernard Shaw.

Ulysses is the Roman interpretation of the Greek hero Odysseus. I chose it as my nom-de-web because I liked the sound of it, and I'm a bit of a fan of Greek history and mythology. Unfortunately, there's never really been much similarity between he and I (unless you count the way both of us seem to spend most of our lives feeling somewhat at sea).

Picking an example at random:

A Greek hero, equipped with the modern miracle of a bread maker would no doubt turn out loaves of truly Olympian perfection. The crust would be crisp and golden, the interior would be soft and light. Zeus himself would declare it ambrosia.

I, however... well, meet Frankenloaf.

I don't know what I did wrong. I suspect everything. In desperation, I attempted to detach part of Frankenloaf and sample it, but it resisted every tool at my disposal and now I need a new hacksaw. Finally discouraged, I flung it into the farthest reaches of the swamp behind the Palace. I heard it hit the ground with a final thunk, no doubt digging itself a crater of notable proportion. I fear I may have done ill, however, for I suspect it will return. I think it will be eventually rejected by the denizens of the swamp and hurled bodily back into my yard... possibly even right in through the kitchen window by a flock of malevolent robins enraged by the damage done to their delicate beaks when they tried to peck at it. Should that fail, I have no doubt that it will remain a testament to the culinary incompetence of one man, a man whose name will be lost to history many years after the apocalypse when the mysterious lump is unearthed by puzzled scientists. "The scanners read it as organic. According to all tests, it ought to be edible but it isn't. Surely the ancients possessed some superior science or knew some magic now lost to us."

In the meantime, it will haunt my dreams: a frozen Blob, raging with impotent hatred for its creator.

Oh well. Maybe less flour next time...