Thursday, November 14, 2013

Truth in advertising

I remember going to the circus as a child. I don't remember which circus it was, but I remember that they advertised a unicorn as one of their exhibits.

I was old enough to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time. Unicorns weren't real, but surely they couldn't advertise that they had one and then not have one. Right?

The big day came and off we went to the civic auditorium. We parked miles away (it seemed) and walked for ages to get there. (In reality, it was probably a few blocks. Tell that to seven-year-old me.)

I actually remember nothing of the circus itself. Clowns, lion tamers, acrobats, I got nothin'.  But the unicorn. Oh, I remember that with perfect clarity. 

They put a pedestal in the middle of the arena. They shone a spotlight down on it.   The center of the pedestal opened and a woman came up on a lift of some kind, along with...

Not this.

A tiny, shaggy creature that stood about waist high on her, with a twisted horn in the rough center of its forehead and a stubby tail. It looked absolutely nothing like the unicorns of my fantasies. It pressed close to her legs as if terrified by the lights and the crowd. 

In retrospect, it probably was. I would be, too, if I was a deformed little one horned goat. 

The thing that I remember the most about that circus was the bitter taste of disappointment in the back of my throat. I sat there, stunned, knowing full well I'd been cheated. I couldn't appreciate anything else that happened. 

My mother thought I was too tired and I didn't have the vocabulary at the time to tell her that wasn't what it was. It was that the circus broke some of my childhood that day. 

I never did get it back. And I never went to the circus again. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Race is On!

NaNoWriMo has begun!

As of today, I have 11,445 words according to NaNo's official tally machine.  (According to OpenOffice, I actually have 11,500, but what's 55 words between friends?)

This one is definitely a hot mess, you guys.  I have jumped headfirst into a whole new genre that I've never worked - or read - in before.


You read that right.  I am writing a fantasy novel with steampunk.  I feel SO COOL right now, okay?  Let's just be honest.  I'm sitting here DYING for a top hat with one of those awesome pairs of goggles.

I did do some research before I started.  TVTropes, my source of many lost hours, has the following to say about steampunk:

Retro-style Speculative Fiction set in periods where steam power is king. Very often this will be in an Alternate Universe where the internal combustion engine never displaced the steam engine, and as a result all manner of cool steam-driven technologies have emerged, ranging from Airships to submarines; the plausible counterpart to Magitek, with a Hollywood Science Hand Wave or The Spark of Genius. Largely, steampunk runs on Rule of Cool. Sometimes combined with the work of Charles Babbage on mechanical computers to produce a kind of retro Cyber Punk set entirely in the Victorian era or a close analogue, with Dickensian exploitation.
 (It actually has quite a lot else to say as well, but that's good for a start.)  I did read the rest of the article, and clicked through to other articles on Punk Punk and such.  I also watched this video which, if you even know what Steampunk is or is actually supposed to be, will give you a chuckle or two.

The long and the short of the above is: I'm jumping into a new pool.  The new novel is turning out to be urban fantasy, based in a city that's a combination of Sharn and Sigil, with both high (spell-based) magic and steampunk technology.


In other news, though, I'm also having real-life issues that nobody probably cares about.  The first cold-possible-flu of the season hit me last night with an evil, evil vengeance, and my comprehensive exams are Friday.  (For those unfamiliar with grad school speak, if I don't pass the comps, I don't get my Master's.)  So things are a bit... crazy... in my life right now, and you may or may not hear from me for awhile.  Wish me luck!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The only rule is that there are no rules!

I've come to realize over the course of the last couple of days that I've been too focused on the idea of rules and standards in fiction genres.  For example, there's a brick wall, in my mind, between the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and never the twain shall meet.  Fantasy requires magic and elves and unicorns and things, and science fiction is lasers and rocketships and terraforming other planets.

But that's not true, is it?  At least, not necessarily.

Here's a prime example: the late Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.  Here's a world where they have dragons and people who telepathically talk to dragons!  Fantasy!  But it turns out, as you get into the series (spoiler alert!) that the people on Pern are humans, descended from Earth colonists.  Science Fiction!  Holy carp gills!

I'm certain that there are other examples, but that's the one that's coming to mind just now.

The reason I'm having this mental struggle is because I'm developing the world and the background for the story I mentioned in my last post.  I was lying in bed last night thinking about it, and trying to decide whether I wanted to stay with a traditional fantasy setting or switch to a post-apocalyptic dystopia.  Then I had a brief exchange with @Lorata on Twitter, and she made this comment about fantasy books that included modern tech like guns and electricity:

"all of mine have electricity, trains etc. there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t"

And so I lay in bed, considering dystopian futures and magitech combo worlds until I fell asleep.  And when I woke up this morning, something in my brain said, "What about steampunk?"

And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.  And then.  Then, dear readers, then I started thumbing through my Planescape manuals.  And all  I'm going to say is, I really should not be allowed to look at D&D books when I'm supposed to be studying for exams.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Where do you get your ideas?

I'm sure every writer has heard this question more than once.  Can you answer it?  Because I can't.

Ideas come from everywhere.  Sometimes they come from nowhere, as when I'm standing in the shower or lying in bed nearly asleep and the ol' brain suddenly says, "Hey, here, have a fantastic idea that would probably win a prize or something" and then the ol' memory says "Hey, forget about that" before I can write it down.

In the case of my NaNo 2013 idea, it came from a picture.

By the way, in case I forgot to mention, I've decided to take a swing at NaNo 2013.  What the heck, right?

At any rate... I was scrolling through my Tumblr dash one night several weeks ago when I ran across this photo:

That, in case you follow no fandoms at all, is Kate Beckett (from Castle) sitting on the Iron Throne (from Game of Thrones).  The original picture was not wallpaper-sized, but I decided it was too awesome not to sit on my desktop for awhile.  I actually put it on my second monitor.  And about a week ago, I glanced at it, and the main character of my next new story looked back at me.  

It is going to be glorious, in the way of most alternate-universe fanfictions, which is to say that it's likely to be a hot mess.  But I'm really, really excited about starting it.  I cleaned off my white board and wrote down the names and functions of the main characters, and I can actually visualize the opening scene in my head.  

I'm really excited about starting this story.

Where did your most recent fantastic idea come from?  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts about thinking

I am not a person who benefits from a lack of scheduling.  Let me explain why.

Five years ago, at the age of 30, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), combined type.  In case you don't know, there are three kinds of ADHD.  The first is the one you automatically think of: the loud, boisterous kid who is always out of his seat, throwing things, shouting in class, and generally making a nuisance of himself.  That's hyperactive-impulsive.

According to WebMD, symptoms include:
  • Fidgeting, squirming when seated
  • Getting up frequently to walk or run around
  • Running or climbing excessively when it's inappropriate (in teens this may appear as restlessness)
  • Having difficulty playing quietly or engaging in quiet leisure activities
  • Always being 'on the go'
  • Often talking excessively
  • Impatience
  • Difficulty delaying responses
  • Blurting out answers before questions have been completed
  • Difficulty awaiting one's turn
  • Frequently interrupting or intruding on others to the point of causing problems in social or work settings
  • Initiating conversations at inappropriate times

The second kind is the kid in the back of the room, staring out the window and having absolutely no concept of anything going on around her.  That's inattentive.

Symptoms include
  • Difficulty paying attention to details and tendency to make careless mistakes in school or other activities; producing work that is often messy and careless
  • Easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli and frequently interrupting ongoing tasks to attend to trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others
  • Inability to sustain attention on tasks or activities
  • Difficulty finishing schoolwork or paperwork or performing tasks that require concentration
  • Frequent shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
  • Procrastination
  • Disorganized work habits
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities (for example, missing appointments, forgetting to bring lunch)
  • Failure to complete tasks such as homework or chores
  • Frequent shifts in conversation, not listening to others, not keeping one's mind on conversations, and not following details or rules of activities in social situations

The third kind is both, at alternate times.  That's combined type, and that's me. (And, apparently, Calvin as well.)

I've had this on my mind, because I recently found a box of old papers and things.  In that box were my report cards from elementary school.  They were the old-style report cards where your teachers wrote on them by hand, not the fancy printed kind that just have numbers and averages.  They have actual comments from the teachers regarding my progress, and several of them stood out to me in very unpleasant ways.  They said things like,

"Not working to her full potential."
"Needs to try harder."
"Needs to pay attention more in class."
"Talks too much."

Aside from the last one - which is true - the main problem with these criticisms is that they are completely abstract.  None of my teachers, from the third grade through the eighth, made a single concrete suggestion for my improvement, other than what was, essentially, a request that I shut up.  And it's very frustrating to a child (or, I imagine, to anyone, really) to be told that you need to try harder when you are, in fact, trying as hard as you know how to try and nothing that you do is working.  Or to be told to be more organized, but nobody bothers to show you how.

Something that annoys me about the symptoms listed above - especially under "inattentive" type, is the frequent use of the word "careless."  Especially terms like "careless mistake" or "messy and careless."  No one seems to understand that this is as careful as I am capable of being.  Messy?  Don't you get that this is the neatest handwriting I am capable of producing?

"Disorganized" is another trigger word for me.  Call me disorganized?  Screw you. I know where every single thing I own is.  Do you know why I know where it is?  Because I can see it.  I know, for example, that my external drive is a "desk-area" item.  It lives somewhere in the desk area.  If I turn and look at my desk - and perhaps lift a stray notebook - I will be able to lay my eyes on my external drive within ten to fifteen seconds.  Do you know what happens if some well-meaning person (*cough*MOTHER*cough*) decides to "straighten" my desk area?


Why is that?  Because my brain does not process spatial stimuli the same way hers does.  She looks at my desk and sees clutter.  I look at it and, largely, see individual items: my TARDIS jounral, my yarn bow, my lotion, my small notebook, the stack of books over by the printer that are for my paper.

Is it cluttered?  Yeah, from a neurotypical person's perspective, probably.  But you know what?  I need it that way, because otherwise I can't find anything.  You know the old saying "Out of sight, out of mind"?  That is literally how my brain works.  If I can't see it, it's gone, and I have no idea where it's at, or even where to begin looking for it, and I need a new one.

Now, here's the important part of this post.  (If you've made it this far, you get a gold star.)

How do your characters think?

If you're writing about a character who's scatterbrained - to use another term for ADHD people that just makes me feel so good about myself - can you get inside that character's mind?  Do you write her as almost aggressively clueless and twee, or do you really stop and think about the fact that inside her mind, there are processes going on, and they sound like this:

I need to remember to get peanut butter when I'm at the store.  I'm almost out of peanut butter.  I do like a good peanut butter sandwich. Heh. I remember when I was in college and I was so broke that I ate nothing but peanut butter and day-old bread for two weeks around finals.  Was that junior year or...?  No, I remember, it was the first semester of my junior year, because that was when the coffee shop I was working at just went belly-up overnight and I couldn't find another job because I was going home over Christmas, and no one would hire me if I was going to be gone for a month right away.  Man, that sucked.  I loved working at that coffee shop, too.  It always smelled so good.  I love the way roasted coffee beans smell.  Oh, and I remember that guy who worked there, the one who made the chocolate latte things and they were so good because he put one of the other syrups in them that you wouldn't expect.  Which one was that?  I can't remember now.  Was it hazelnut? Almond? No, almond would be gross.  I wonder what it was.  I should look him up on Facebook and ask him.  I remember his name was Rich.  What was his last name?  Blakely?  Maybe?  Bleecker?  No, that's stupid, that's that street in Manhattan where all the nightclubs are.  I'd like to go to Manhattan; I bet it's awesome.  I wouldn't want to live there, though; the rents are ridiculous.  What kind of idiot would pay thousands of dollars a month for a studio apartment in a crime-ridden neighborhood?  I'll take my nice, grassy half-acre, even if I do have an hour's commute.  Oh, that reminds me, I'd better get gasoline before I go home.

And somehow the peanut butter never gets bought.  And did I mention that that entire stream of consciousness took about five seconds?  As well, about half of those thoughts weren't even in words; they were in pictures - people's faces, for example, or maybe the coffee shop sign, or a memory of being behind the counter - or in vague ideas like the smell of roasting coffee beans combined with a feeling of happiness.  The mind of the ADHD person moves like lightning, and in ways that many neurotypical folks don't really comprehend.

I recall, as a child, that when something would happen, my parents would ask me what I was thinking when I did it.  And I would shrug and say that I wasn't.  They would reject that answer.  "You had to have been thinking something."  I probably was, but let me redirect your attention to the above stream of consciousness and the fact that it happened in an eyeblink and mostly in conceptualities.  Try explaining that to your dad when you're seven and he's standing over you with a strap in his hand.

How your characters think is as important - and sometimes more important - than what they think.  Try to give your audience some insight into your character's mind, but don't assume that all minds work the same way yours does.  Try jumping into the mind of someone who's neurally different from you.  It could be a fun roller coaster ride.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Long absences do not, in fact, make the heart grow fonder.

They just make it more difficult to pick up where you left off.

That being said, I'd like to apologize for my own extended absence.  Over the weekend I went to Knoxville to do research on the paper I mentioned before, for my seminar.  I got some really exciting stuff, including the full transcript of the murder trial and a chance to look at and study documents that nobody else has looked at or studied in 100 years.  For a historian, this is exciting stuff, folks.  Documents nobody else has looked at since they were created?  Oh, yeah.  That's the ticket, right there.

As far as writing goes - I've finished the first draft of The Diamond Sword!  I'm thrilled.  Thrilled.  Of course, now I have some heavy-duty editing to do, but I'll get there.  Between the paper and preparing for my comprehensive exams (which are in about a month), school has to take precedence over writing.  For now.

I would like to take a moment to recommend some books.  I picked up some used books while I was in Knoxville - some fantasy classics that, believe it or not, I'd never actually read before.  And that gave me the idea to suggest my favorite fantasy novels to you.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (and all its follow-ons).
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.
Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey (and all the rest of the books from her world of Velgarth).
The Belgariad by David Eddings.  (Less so The Malloreon.)
The Redemption of Althalus by David Eddings.
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (okay, technically this series is sf, but there are dragons.)
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (and every other Discworld novel ever).
The Darksword trilogy and the Rose of the Prophet trilogy by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams

Funny story about the last two entries.  I was a hardcore SF reader as a kid.  Loved it.  My brother came in from the used book store one day with the Darksword trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair, and Stone of Farewell.  He read them, loved them, salivated over the Tad Williams stuff until To Green Angel Tower came out.

When I saw the size of that hardback, I was like

Come to mama.

Anything that big and involved had my attention immediately.  So while he waded through it, I caught up with the first two books, and my love affair with fantasy novels began.

After I finished Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, I went on to read the Weis and Hickman stuff that he had, and then someone turned me on to Mercedes Lackey and... boom.

I find, though, that most of the fantasy that I read came out before I graduated from high school in 1995.  I don't have a lot of recent stuff.  So I ask you, my dear readers.  Give me YOUR recommendations.  Tell me what my life is poorer for not having.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


This will be a brief post on the topic of food.

So, my friend Christine was telling me about a friend of hers, who has apparently recently had some kind of, I don't know, mental trauma or something.  In Christy's words, "Jersey's rubbed off on her or something."  (I think Jersey counts as cranial trauma, right?  What do I know?  I'm not a doctor.)  Anyway, the point was that there is something wrong with Miss Jersey, because Miss Jersey has apparently recently decided that she does not like toppings on her pizza.  She wants her pizza to have sauce and cheese only.  And this would be fine - I'm very much a proponent of "to each his/her own" - except that this person then took to Facebook to publicly state that "bacon on pizza is a NO!"

Yes.  I hope you were sitting down for that, dear readers.  I know, I know, it hurts to hear it.  Try to breathe through the pain.

Christy and I commenced discussing pizza.  We arrived at a mutual conclusion that there are very few things that should be considered verboten as pizza toppings.  Among them: fish, eye of newt, tongue of dog, pinecones, etc.  (Pineapple, on the other hand, is extremely welcome, especially when paired with ham.)

Hello there, you sexy beast.

When there is pizza in our house, it is generally obtained from a take-and-bake chain called Papa Murphy's.  (We are very lazy and we would get it delivered, but I regret to state that we actually live in a benighted area to which no one will deliver pizza. I actually have to leave my house and drive four miles up the road to meet the pizza delivery man at a particular corner, because they will not come to my house.  So I figure if I'm going to have to put pants on anyway, I may as well go get something that tastes good.)  The point: Papa Murphy's offers a very delicious specialty pizza, and I was telling Christy about it, because it involves garlic sauce and chicken and artichoke and - wait for it - bacon

She replied that her particular favorite pizza is a similar creation of chicken and bacon and white sauce which she, living in the San Francisco Bay area as she does, obtains at a place called Pizza My Heart.  (I personally have never been there but she swears by it, and apparently she has a shirt emblazoned with their name which she actually wears in public, so it must be good.)

At any rate, as I was saying:

Everyone says the food of the gods is Ambrosia, but I disagree.  When the gods want to chow down, they want bacon.  Ambrosia is a disgusting concoction of yogurt and cherries and coconut, and bacon is made of pure, greasy, porcine deliciousness.

Because really, who likes coconut?  Nobody likes coconut.  Except maybe Hades, and really, F that guy.