Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I’ve decided to post one of my novels as an online serial novel It’s the novel that precedes Diana’s Diary, and I’m illustrating it, just like I did the diary.
So here it is: Bella Diana. Take a look and let me know what you think. I’ll start posting next chapters in another day or two. The novel is complete, so unless I change my mind about putting it out there for free, there will be regular installments every couple of days or so.
Note: This post is cross-posted on my main blog.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Diana saddled her horse in the pre-dawn darkness. She strapped on her gear—rucksack, canteens, food, tarp and blankets. She checked that everything was properly balanced and tied on tight. When she picked up the bridle and went to slip the bit into Flecha’s mouth, the horse shook her head.
“You know what this is about, don’t you?” Diana rubbed Flecha’s nose and tried again. This time the mare took the bit.
She led her into the yard, looking around, as if someone might come after her and ask her to reconsider. But it was still too early, and this close to Christmas, Amalia probably thought she had changed her mind. It would be a cold journey, but there wasn’t much snow. The drought was good for something, at least.
Diana headed north on a little-used trail through the woods. This path would take her away from the better-maintained trails on the south side of the mountain. It wasn’t likely anyone would follow, since the school had no one with both the ability and the inclination to track her.
The trail wound up through the trees, and with only her flashlight to pick out the hazards, it was slow going until the sun came up and the morning light filtered through the pines and bare branches of the aspens. Mid-morning found her near the peak, a fork in the road before her and the empty northern valley spread out below. And now, what to do? Diana reined in and nibbled a few piñones from a pouch at her waist.
She had lied to Amalia. She had no plan. Or rather, she had several, and all of them frightened her. Whatever road she chose, whether back to the school, south to Cobre, west to Castaño, or north to nowhere, the things she would give up would be tremendous. As soon as she urged her mare forward, no matter what her direction or intent, the decision would be made, perhaps irrevocably.
She considered the matter so long that she grew stiff and cold. Finally she shook herself. She couldn’t sit here forever at the summit. She had to choose. And was there really any such thing as forever? As long as she remained alive, she could remake her life over and over, until she got it right. If you couldn’t change and re-do, re-imagine your whole existence, what was the point in carrying on? Life would just be one great tunnel to nowhere. And surely it wasn’t that.
Diana jerked on the reins. “Come on, Flecha. It’s a big world.”
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Literary fashions come and go. Creative dialogue tags, long descriptive passages sans action, and phonetically-rendered dialogue are just a few fashions from an earlier era that are about as popular today as whalebone corsets and celluloid collars. But even though he wrote for different audience tastes, ol’ Sam Clemens had a good grasp of the basics:
From Twain’s critique of James Fenimore Cooper:
There are nineteen rules governing literary art. . .1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.
3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.
8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale.
9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
Some things about writing are truly universal!
I would venture to say that as writers and critters, we should be careful to distinguish between critique of style vs critique of the “bones” of the story. If someone has read your entire story (as opposed to an outtake) and says, “I have trouble believing s/he would do that,” you might have a serious problem on your hands. But a comment about “too many adverbs” is stylistic. It's a recommendation that you read up on current literary fashions in your genre, and does not necessarily mean your work is fundamentally flawed.
The full text of Twain’s comments is here, and worth a read.
Gotta love that man!
Monday, May 07, 2007
Well, here it is straight from literary agent Jessica Faust at Bookends, LLC:
Publishing is not about selling a good book. Publishing is about selling a book that will sell, and rarely does that have to do entirely with how good the book is.
So there. It's a minefield out there, and being given a rah-rah pep talk isn't helpful. What a writer really needs is an honest critique and help seeing where their artistic vision fails to align with current market trends in style and content.
Mindless boosterism should be left to professionals. . . like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I don’t do as much thinking and posting here as I probably could, but I’ve been mulling over a worldbuilding issue for awhile, and now is as good a time as any to commit my thoughts to pixels.
Any fiction setting requires some degree of worldbuilding, although the term is used most often in conjunction with science fiction and fantasy because of the complexity of the undertaking. But creating a future version of our own world poses its own set of problems. And setting my stories in a low-tech, post-peak oil future presented some special difficulties for me in terms of character development.
Each of us in American culture makes certain cultural assumptions about the people we meet. We assume a shared knowledge base that includes at least a passing familiarity with Romeo and Juliet, World War II, Gilligan’s Island, the Rolling Stones and pizza, just for starters. There’s a shared understanding that nearly everyone you meet attended a school where children sit at desks in neat rows and learn math, history, science and English. We take it for granted that everyone has been to the movies, watched TV, talked on the phone, ridden in a car, and used a computer.
But in my fictional world, none of these things can be taken for granted for any character under the age of fifty. Now what?
For some of my worldbuilding, I’ve been able to draw on the past: how did people go about growing and preserving food before electricity, for example? But placing such things as iPods in the living memory of my oldest characters posted a dilemma no writer of Victoriana ever faces. Not since the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe has there been a loss of technology on a grand scale. What would it be like to live through such a happening, or to be the grandchild of someone who lived through it? What would it be like to never have been to school and to never be sure if your radio will pick up a signal today, knowing that your grandmother went to university and had hundreds of TV stations broadcast into her home by satellite? Would you be capable of understanding your grandmother’s experience, or would it sound like a fairy tale?
It’s been a constant challenge to develop characters who are smart, competent and savvy, yet distressingly ignorant of things we take for granted in our own world. In some ways it would be easier to create a true fantasy world because I wouldn’t then have to wrestle with questions like: Should he know who Abraham Lincoln was? Would she recognize a zebra when she saw one, or would she think it was a striped horse?
What would a young, uneducated person raised in the desert think upon seeing their first picture of a lighthouse or the ocean?
Will and Diana found scorpions and birds' nests in the room, but were more interested in the dusty pictures on the walls. "Here's what we need in this country," Diana said, examining a seascape. "Look at all that water! Where do you think it came from?"
"A flood, maybe?"
"Like Noah and the Ark?" Diana considered. "It looks even bigger than the lake we camped at last year. You think it's a real place?"
Will shrugged. "No telling. If I had paint and knew what to do with it, I suppose I could make a picture of anything, whether it was real or not."
I have no words of wisdom on worldbuilding. It’s tricky. It’ll make you crazy. But it can also be fun because it’s your own world and you’re in charge. Shut off the computer, walk out the door, and all bets are off. But right here, right now, the world is yours.
Blogging Writers Who Make Me Think:
Note: I'm not tagging anyone, per se, since so many folks in my circle have already been tagged and I can no longer remember who got tagged and who didn't!