Friday, January 22, 2016

Brief Snippet

To prove that I, and Recompense, are still alive:

[The palace garden was one of the few green places in the whole city.

Pete had agreed to plant some trees around the edges of the market district, and make room for a few city parks so that the town’s little ones could have grass to run on. The rich folks generally had bushes and flowers growing in urns in front of their fancy houses. Once in a while, you might see a well-to-do merchant with a weed growing in a pot hanging in front of a window. But for now, the palace garden and the little pasture next to the stables were the only places in the entire capital that looked like the real world.

Jess hung onto Pete’s arm as they strolled along under the old trees, just breathing air that wasn’t nearly as filthy as she had started to get use to. The fact that she had started to get used to it bothered her as much as the smoke and stink.

"Everything is looking good," Jess took a deep breath. "After last winter I’m never gonna take anything green for granted again."

"Nor I," Pete agreed. They followed the path out of the shaded area, past a miniature waterfall, over a tiny bridge, and down toward the central pond. "Thank the Ladies, it looks like this is going to be a bumper crop year. If next year is halfway decent the kingdom will be back on its feet again."

Jess leaned against his shoulder. "I’m thinking about the first time we came here."

Pete chuckled. "When you told me that the spell you put on me was going to be permanent? I was worried about you for a while. You looked like you were going to faint."

"Worried about me?" She straightened and stared. "You fool man."
"You have said that before," he reminded her.

"I’ll keep saying it," she said. "As long as you keep coming out with things like that."

Pete laughed and looked at the pond. "I’m glad that some wild ducks and geese came back to replace the domestic ones that the staff ate last winter. It wouldn’t look right without birds."

"No." Jess smiled. "A pond needs something in it."

The center of the pond surged upward in a rising dome. Spreading waves lashed out from the center, frightening the waterfowl into squawking flight. The dome grew to the height of a person and stopped. Then it parted and slid down into two halves, revealing Betra standing on the surface of the pond.

Hefran and Ildara were bracketing the royal couple, one with a drawn sword and the other with a necklace in her fist. Pete raised a calming hand and stepped forward.

"Welcome, Madam Betra. I am honored that you have seen fit to visit us. Please, have a seat and tell me how we may serve. Will you be willing to accept refreshments?"

Betra’s lips twitched in amusement and she strolled over to the water at the edge of the pond. "You ain’t never gonna loosen up, are you, Pete boy? Up to you. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with talking fancy if it suits you." She spat to one side. "You want to know how you can serve? Simple enough. I’m calling in your marker, Pete boy. It’s time to pay up."]

Monday, January 18, 2016

Writing A Character From A Different Culture

It's a challenge that I have always struggled with. A recent example of this situation caught my eye yesterday.

I used to write fanfiction, that's how I got started. I still read the stuff. I was reading a story set in the universe of a a sci-fi series with multiple non-human races. Doesn't matter which one. The point is that tv programs produced in the US are written by Americans. No matter what kind of makeup or costume they wrap the actors in, the 'aliens' on shows like that almost always think and act like modern Americans. However, this story was different.

This particular fanfic includes an alien character that was forced to make a difficult decision. She married a human, and used genetic engineering to artificially craft a child with him. Her government vehemently disapproved. Her government ordered her to abandon her husband and her baby, and return home to resume service to her people. She obediently left her child behind to be raised by the father, and never looked back. It broke her heart. But she did it because her ethical system considered obedience to authority, and the needs of her people at large, as being greater than anything else.

There are human cultures, or that have been, that might have reacted in similar ways. It's just that most Americans bristle by reflex at the concept of that type of submission to authority. This is not the kind of thing that most Americans would do, of either gender. The average American, if faced with that kind of ultimatum, would react in a way somewhere between telling their C.O. to kiss off, or perhaps make a run for it, or even possible murder. Most of us would not consider abandoning our family because the state demanded it. But that does not make it an invalid choice. She had reasons for her decision.

It is unusual in the extreme to find a story, or a show, where the aliens actually act un-American, much less alien. Not that this particular situation was really that weird. But it did veer away from the usual fare. Which is one of the main functions of sci-fi. To make the reader stretch their imagination and consider what-if.

My fiction has non-human races in it. I haven't dug too deeply into their mental or emotional makeup, because I am uncertain about how to present it. But speculative fiction is even more effective at provoking authors into considering what-ifs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Repairs And Reorganization

Owning a 'classic' vehicle is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, the nostalgia value is nice, We have had the thing for a lot of years. It's like an old friend. It's also to the point now that it gains value each year instead of losing it, despite needing some body work. Sweet. The downside is maintenance. Right now it is in the garage because some balancing something-or-other on the crankcase pulley went kaput and started eating the main engine belt. Sigh.

To get my mind off it, and the ongoing saga of the great plumbing debacle, as well as taking a break from the penultimate phase of editing Recompense, I decided to get back into modding an old game that I like to tinker with. It's still fun to me, and it's old enough that there is plenty of reference material on the net for a self-taught ignoramus like myself.

I have already managed to scrounge up a deep contempt for the process of designing software by committee. The company that made this game are long-term industry veterans. They should know what they are doing by now. But the data file system is laid out in such a way as to make inconsistency and inefficiency abound. This cannot have happened as a deliberate design choice by a competent tech. Not possible. This is plainly the result of either a manager who couldn't find their rump, or more likely a design team who was running under the whip due to presure from the bean counters to get the thing out the door in time for deadline no matter what kind of crappy shape it was in.

Sigh. Again. At least they labeled everything. More or less.

Monday, January 4, 2016

It's Hard To Pick

I am elbow deep in content editing for Recompense right now, and tearing out my hair. The problem is knowing what to carve out. It's not simple.

For instance, one review site gave Athame a generally very good review, with the single complaint that I did not include enough background material on the characters and world. Another, a private purchaser, left a good review on Amazon that liked the early part but thought the book got a little too bogged down in detail in the latter half. A writer can't win. What one reader loves will provoke another reader to gripe.

The standard so-called wisdom for many years has been that anything which doesn't advance the plot, or add necessary information about a major character, should not be in there. "Murder your darlings", etc. But then you get readers who like to savor the immersion factor and complain that the story feels rushed if you don't toss in a lot of texture. Times are changing also, with the increasing prevalence of electronic books and self-publishing.

Big publishing houses that put out large runs of paper books have a vested interest in keeping a book size down as much as possible. Partly to control production costs, partly to minimize losses if it doesn't sell well and they have to take it back for disposal. That doesn't apply to digital media. There are also several recent surveys that show people are tending more and more to prefer longer books. Maybe folks are starting to enjoy immersion more. Or maybe they just want more book for their money, given the tight economy. Or maybe people have always liked long books, and the publishing houses just kept readers on a starvation diet.

But by the same token (cliche anyone?) nobody wants to write another Robinson Crusoe. To anyone who hasn't read it, RC was a torturous ordeal to wade through. Verbose does not begin to cover it. It actually doesn't have a real plot as such. It's not actually about anything. Just an endless stream of consciousness plus soapbox for the author's philosophical musings. Thankfully, almost no one reads it anymore. I have no idea why anyone ever did, to tell the truth. It really and truly sucked. No personal offense intended to anyone who loves the piece of crap.

I am told that my main flaw as a writer is my tendency to digress away from the main plot into irrelevancy. Hence, I am deeply concerned about making sure that everything left in a book is clearly relevant to the book, with the possible exception of minor foreshadowing that will be left as hooks for the next story in a series. But what to cut? Which darling do I murder?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Doesn't Look Like I Am Going To Make Deadline

I wanted to get this done by Christmas really, really badly. Unfortunately, I have been diverted by yet more vehicle trouble, and another plumbing leak in this old house. Among other things. All I can do is apologize and say that Recompense is 98-99% written, and the editing is about a third done.

Drat. I really wanted to finish it by Christmas. But I refuse to put out crap.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Content Editing

Pruning. Rewriting. More pruning. Compacting. Rectifying inconsistencies. More pruning. Smoothing rough spots. More pruning.

Argh! I need more coffee!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still Crawling Forward + A Minor Rant

Word count for Recompense is now up to 271,200. I need to pull back and exercise some self-discipline. I intend to start a new trilogy, or at least add more books to the series anyway, so there's no point in trying to write it all at once.

Meanwhile, I am trying to make sure that my characters maintain consistency, and remain at least halfway believable. This is the foundation for today's rant.

I was watching Grimm last week, the last episode before it goes on Christmas break. I am wavering on whether to even bother picking up the show again after the first of the year. The wildly unlikely personal interactions and behaviors are getting painful to watch.

It's not like this is new knowledge. Every speculative fiction writer. I mean every speculative fiction writer knows that the more improbable the setting is, the more realistic everything else has to be. Otherwise people will snort and turn to something else. You have to make your characters REAL. You have to make your characters someone that the reader/audience will give a rat's backside about. Like them or hate them, they have to ring true to life.

Once again I say, as I have said so often before, that every story at its most basic heart is simply a case of 'once upon a time something happened to someone and this is what came of it'. Stories are about the characters, and what happens to them, and how they react to what happens to them. Without interesting characters that the reader/audience/listener can identify with, all you are doing is writing a dry recitation of events. Rather like a newspaper article.

Either that, or you are writing a (grimace) literary work. Which means that you are not really telling a story at all, just spewing out some verbal self-indulgence all over the page.