Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So here we are, halfway through the 2011 Nanowrimo adventure! How are YOUR novels going, everyone? Mine has been sputtering in starts and stops for the last two weeks, some days being good enough to make up for all the days that have been reprehensibly horrible. But you know what? The words that I’ve produced over the last two weeks, slow and resistant though they may have been, have been ten million miles better than those of last year’s Nano product! And here’s exactly why.
All through my childhood and teenage years, I could always be found with a book in my hand. I carted bags of them home from libraries, kept a stash in my backpack, spent long hours curled up on the floor in front of the house heater with a book and a cup of tea. I’ve no doubt my parents still remember winters spent stepping over and around the reading nest I made for myself.
And as I read, I began to write. I wrote bits and pieces, drabbles and abortive sputtering starts, but I wrote. And, if I may say, for my age they weren’t so bad.
Then I went to college. (and bought a playstation, but let’s not mention that) Mostly, it was college. When I did have to write, it was long papers, or required stories about dull and boring real-life things. I had to study things like statistics (shudder) and biology (not so bad). I did read, but not like I used to. There just wasn’t time. And then I came to Japan, and finding English books is virtually impossible. Suddenly I had the time, but not the ability. I would raid the English section of bookstores in Tokyo, scrounging out anything available, even if I had to resort to bad fantasy and trashy romance novels. At least they were words on a page. I was starving in a desert where the only water was written in moonspeak and the natives weren’t big on drinking.
……. How’s that for word salad? Okay, I’ll quit with the metaphors.
Then I discovered the joy of the eBook. Despite my insistence (still) that it will never replace the ink and paper of a real book, the eBook did serve to open my world back up again. Someday I want a personal library. And I’m not talking about the folder on my computer that is filled with books, I’m talking about a wall-of-shelves-scent-of-books-with-crinkled-spines library. With a lounge chair. And a hot-water heater for tea. But for now, the folder will do.
And so I’ve been reading again. Here is an abbreviated list of the last eight desperately book-starved months of my life.

  • • Terry Goodkind
    • o Sword of Truth Series (11 books)
  • • Neil Gaiman
    • o Neverwhere
  • • David Eddings
    • o Belgariad (5 books)
    • o Malloreon (5 books)
  • • Jim Butcher
    • o Dresden Files (13 books)
    • o Codex Alera (6 books)
  • • R. Scott Bakker
    • o Prince of Nothing (3 books)
  • • Joe Abercrombie
    • o First Law (3 books)
  • • Frank Herbert
    • o Dune (6 books)
  • • Orson Scott Card
    • o Ender (8 books)
  • • George RR Martin
    • o Song of Ice and Fire (5 BIG books)
  • • Brent Weeks
    • o Night Angel Trilogy (duh)
  • • Brandon Sanderson (with whom I would have babies)
    • o Mistborn Trilogy (…)
    • o Way of Kings (one book… WANT MORE)
    • o Warbreaker
  • • Karen Marie Moning
    • o Fever (5 books)
  • • Scott Lynch
    • o Gentlemen Bastards (2 books)
  • • Steven King
    • o The Dark Tower (7 books)
  • • Frank Abagnale
    • o Catch me if you Can
  • • Scott Westerfeld
    • o Risen Empire (2 books)
    • o Peeps (2 books)
    • o Midnighters (3 books)
    • o Leviathan (3 books)
    • o Evolution’s Darling
    • o So Yesterday

….. Need I go on? A few of those were average, a couple were really crappy, and the majority were amazing. The point is, I read them. And in reading them, I did my research well. I took note of which plot ploys I loved, and which I hated. Which kinds of transitions seemed rough, and which smooth. I watched master writers move ahead from scene to scene, and paid attention to what they left out, where they thought the line between important and unimportant details was drawn. I also stuck with the ones that struggled, paying attention to the things I never want to do.

From George RR Martin I learned that missing chunks of time don’t matter, as long as you leave enough clues for your reader to fill in the gaps. I also learned that anyone can die.

From Brandon Sanderson I learned that there is truly no limit to imagination. It’s easy to fear that it’s all been done before. That there’s nothing new in magic, that every world will become some version of middle-earth. He showed me that nothing could be more wrong. And yes, this is an absolutely SHAMELESS plug for one of the greatest storycrafters I’ve read this year. The unique creativity in his works is almost blinding, leaving you wondering why the rest of us even bother. And that’s a good thing. It’s a challenge to come up with something even more preposterous.

From Jim Butcher I learned that there can be blazing wit in even the most desperate of circumstances. Yes, your characters CAN look death in the face and make jokes that make the villain hid his face. And we love it.

Even the books I didn’t like taught me something. Like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books. I learned that if you make absolutely spineless, miserable, unlikeable characters, it doesn’t matter if they KNOW they’re spineless, miserable, and unlikeable if they don’t DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Or if they have a moment of goodness, and the reader catches their breath (Will he redeem himself? Will he become someone I can cheer on?) and then they slip BACK into the murk of spineless miserable and unlikable. Eventually, the ride isn’t worth the lack of change. So I learned not to do that.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, my dear readers, go forth and read… and write.

Go then. There are other worlds than these, say thankya.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Traitor, Thy Name is George RR Martin

So, I could lie and say that "Yes! I wrote my 15,000 words the month!" Or, I could wail and sob and claim that it's not my fault! I had to move my husband into a new country, get insurance sorted out, alien registration, teach him how to drive, start a new school year, prepare new classes, assist an exchange student…. (Actually, that sounds pretty good! Good excuses, yes?)


But I'll be a better person than that. I'll be honest. CURSE YOU GAME OF THRONES!!!! I had hours of free time. Hours and hours and days and days of time at work when I COULD have been writing. But nuuuuuu. The evil Raven-monster had to go and get me hooked on Game of Thrones. Welp, there went THAT free time. The first four books of Game of Thrones took me longer to read than any other books in living memory. Three whole weeks of nothing but brain-eating, face-consuming, nail-biting reading. And now, the waiting begins.

Without giving anything away, I'd like to make a few comments about the books. I've heard Martin compared to Robert Jordan in his use of a plethora of characters. First difference. Martin is a good writer.

Okay, so maybe that was a little unfair, The first book of Wheel of Time was good…

Robert Jordan didn't know when to let a character go. As a writer, I can understand that. We get attached, even to the little people. After all, if it's going to be a good book, we've probably invested nearly as much time into those colorful personalities that line the trimmings of our novel as we have into our main characters. That's what makes a world rich, vibrant and teeming with life. Real people, stuffed into all the little crevices. The thing is, once those little people start squeezing out of their nooks and running rampant through the fields of our pages, they trample all the flowers. That's what crowds do.

How was that for analogy? xD

That was Robert Jordan's problem. Character management. The crowd got out of control, and book by book, the story slowly got pulled down until it could barely move at all through the press of characters. Now, looking back at the number of characters that Jordan wrote and the total number of characters that Martin has written, the count probably isn't all that far off. But the difference is in Character Management. All of the characters in Martin's epic work move the story forward, rather than slowing it down. They never cover the same point twice, they add perspective to important, world changing events, and most importantly, they don't all have something to say at once! For every one or two perspectives that Martin adds into his work over the course of the four current books, he takes out one as well. (usually through death. T.T) And I thought *I* was bad about killing off characters! (clearly I need to up my death tally.) The death is never pointless, just to get rid of a character, but it usually happens right when you think. "He'll get through this somehow! Where's the twist that will save him/her?" Oops. About that twist. Didn't happen. So far my favoritest (yes, it's a word!) characters still live, but I'm starting to prepare myself for the possibility that that may not remain true.

Suffice to say, I find Martin's way of dealing with his wealth of characters to be creative, fun, insightful, and most importantly, a dynamic and delightful read. I only hope that I can manage my own characters as well some day, with as much skill.

Now, despite the verbosity of my previous exposition on character management, (say that five times fast) what I learned from the books the most as a writer is actually something different, though related.. Pacing. Pacing can be a very difficult skill to master, and I certainly know that it's one that I still struggle with constantly. What is too fast, what is too slow… Sometimes that description of walking down stair just seems so necessary, and other times those three months are so irrelevant you're tempted to just time travel. I struggle with slowing down my world too much when I want to describe the things around my characters, or feel like I have to get across how my character got where they are. Despite the number of perspectives that Martin juggles his story with, he manages to move his plot along at super speed. Sometimes I'm floored when an event that seems like it should have been of such dire importance that it deserved its own chapter (or five) is given to us only in mention from a perspective across the known world from said event. There is reference, then resulting fallout, and *poof*, I realize that the event really wasn't as important as what it caused. That kind of editing eye is remarkably impressive to me. The story leaps and bounds, cutting itself free of the limitations of step by step storytelling. To some extent, this may only be made possible by the number of character perspectives involved. Told through the eyes of only one or two, a writer would be much more firmly locked into a single time stream.

So this is what I come away asking myself. How can I move my story more dynamically? Do I need to try to pull my characters apart? Look more closely at which events must be witnessed, and which can simply be discovered? Where do I draw the line between an awkward time leap and an effective time leap? Is it enough if it only effects one character? Two? Three? The world? Whose eyes will give me the best image of the event? Not the most accurate, perhaps, but the most dynamic. Reading through Martin's books really made me ask a lot of these questions about my own work. I started to look for places where I could create gaps for the imagination to fill in, while widening, enriching, and speeding my story along. The more I can leave out (skillfully, of course, not in spots of confusion) the more I can add back in in terms of plot, intrigue, and character development. I can wring the most from my 130,000 words, and hopefully leave my reader feeling like they just got 200,000 words worth of story.

So. Not a completely wasted month. In the last few days since finishing my reading, I've completely re-notecarded out from my current point in my story, changing, removing, separating, adding, and generally revitalizing my work. The pages behind me are left in a jumble of ideas and plodding exposition, but hopefully I can rework it into vibrant life on my rewrite, for which I already have so many ideas. Hopefully next month, I'll have 15,000 words of win to ecstatically show to the world! Or at least my faithful readers.

On a much more depressing note, my next post will be a photo gallery of my punishments, all the things I promised you horrible horrible people that I would do if I didn't meet my goals. I want you to know, I hate you all. FML

Friday, April 8, 2011

Flash Friday (From the future!!!)

He watched her moving unaware through the trees beneath him.  She was with friends, and the sounds of their voices carried through the cool night air.  His fingers clenched around the branch upon which he perched, claws tearing through the thin bark like paper.  It was this girl.  It had to be.  He could feel her in his mind.
            Closing his eyes he tasted the air.  Something was different about this night.  For longer than he could remember he had been waiting, moving about this small and primitive planet.  At first it had been curious, amusing.  Then it had become boring.  He had stirred up conflicts to pass the time, hunted on occasion.  They had never told him what it was that he was waiting for, why he was watching.  It had been frustrating, humiliating.  That one of the great Death Captains could be exiled to nothing more than a Watcher on this distant rock made his skin vibrate with anger. 
            Opening his eyes again he focused a golden gaze on the slender form that walked away from him.  He knew that the soft orange glow intended to light the orchard of her small school was not enough to reveal his presence, a dark shadow in a darker night.  For now he would let her walk away, safe in her ignorance.  He smiled slowly.  Perhaps he would toy with her before he sent back communication that he had found what they had been seeking.  Maybe he could even discover what she was, and why she was so important.  Then he would have something to bargain with. 
            His spirits lifted, and his claws hungered for blood.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

So Yeah.... Earthquakes...

It's been a rough few weeks in the land of the Rising Sun.  Living in an area of the country affected by, but not in ground zero of the massive quake two weeks ago, it's been understandably difficult to keep up my writing quota.  I'm putting my story on momentary hold as I work on a piece about the Quake.

So, because I haven't posted in a bit, and I might as well share, here is an essay that I wrote for a teacher's bulletin at work.

NOTE:  I was asked to write a three page essay...  about something...  in two hours.  Shoot me, shoot me, oh shoot me now.  If anyone cares, this was The Result.

Friday, March 4, 2011

March's Death List

Recently I asked for support when it came to my writing.  I proposed that monthly I would collect a list of punishments and rewards from my Support Team, dependent upon my writing 15,000 words a month.  Wellp, this is month one.  March 2011.
                So far, it’s the 4th, and guess what.  Nope.  Nada.  Nothin. I seriously need to find a word counter widget that works like those stat bars on the Nano site.  You know the ones, they tally how many words a day you need to write to reach your goal, how many days it’ll take, how many you’ve written, how close you are to your goal…  etc .  Seriously.  Someone get on that.   Make me one, dammit! 
                Well, the math is easy so far.  I need to write 2000 words today to catch up.  Is that going to happen?  I kinda doubt it.  I got five hours of sleep last night.  Another bad excuse, right?
                Well, either way, here’s the list for this month.  Wish me luck, Guys!
·         Rewards
o   Flowers for my Kitchen
o   A night at the onsen
o   Cake!!!  (so not a lie)
o   A romantic picnic with Darren
·         Punishments
o   Wear that shirt that I hate
o   Eat Natto maki
o   No WOW!

To new Beginnings

Welcome to my newest attempt at blogging.  Over the years I’ve seen more than a few blogs come and go, most abandoned within a few posts of starting them.  I’m lazy, I’m not disciplined, and I can always find something better to do with my life. 
            Lately I’ve been watching the way the internet is growing around me.  Through the Pendragon Variety podcast I’ve watched networks form, inspiration bloom, and wannabes become writers.  Watching the internet social networking scene expand, from myspace, to facebook, and now sites like twitter, I’ve stubbornly resisted it.  Though I did let facebook sneak in unexpectedly, (in my defense, at the time it was the only way to meet people on college campuses) I remained a rebel.  All the negative press, the dislike of the net spreading our lives out for all to see, the irritation every time I heard the words, “I’ve GOT to tweet this!” it really got under my skin.  I don’t like writing letters.  I don’t like writing blogs.  I don’t like updating my status, and I don’t want to tweet.  I could give up months of that kind of contact for just one day face to face with a friend.  Talking, joking, and sharing our lives the old fashioned way.  The way that can’t be misinterpreted or shuffled to the bottom of the ‘recent news’ pile.  Our stories are one thing, but I firmly believe that our lives shouldn’t ever end up in the internet’s ‘slush pile’ to be sorted through for editor’s picks.
            That said…  The thing that drives me the craziest about ‘japanthink’, as I call it, is the stubborn refusal to change.  “That’s the way it’s always been.” They say, and I want to shake them until they learn to stop recording things on cassette tapes. 
            So maybe I need to move on to MP3s.
            I want to be a writer, and I want to be a professional, and I want to do it in a time when job security is an international joke.  Maybe it’s time to learn to use the new tools that are at my disposal.
            This blog has several purposes.  It’s not going to be the story of my life.  It’s not going to be my adventures in Japan.  Might that show up?  Sure, maybe.  It’s going to be my inspiration.  It’s going to be my monthly encouragement to write, and pursue my dreams.  It’s going to be the place I share the essays I write for work, and trumpet my little triumphs to the world.  It’s going to be my coffee lounge, my writing closet, and my platform.  If I want anyone in the world to know my name someday… first I have to tell someone what it is.
            So here I go.  Into the unknown, hoping third…fifth… maybe sixth time is the charm.
            But I make no promises about the tweeting.