Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Escapism and Pleasure

Today's blog, thoughts on escapism as a good thing and a revolutionary act, appeared on Book View Cafe:

Here's the opening: One of the criticisms of genre fiction that amuses me most is that it’s escapism, as if that’s a bad thing. I think just the opposite. Nobody, except the unbelievably incompetent, escapes to jail. (I’m not talking about the chronically incarcerated who, unable to function in normal society, deliberately choose actions that will return them to imprisonment, although that’s an interesting image when it comes to preferred reading material.) No, the direction of escape is toward freedom, imagination, innovation, pleasure. In other words, we move toward becoming bigger, richer lives. So what is “escapism” an accusation of? Why is it bad to want something better?

If that tickles your fancy, I'll wait here quietly while you go off and read the whole thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wearing Many Hats

As writers, we wear a variety of hats (that is to say, perform a variety of jobs in the course of creating and selling a story). I usually simplify these down to three: artist, editor, and marketer. Some might also find "artist" better divided into writer + musician + painter + costume designer, or prose-writer + poet.

As we form communities with other writers, we learn how to perform critical/editorial jobs for one another. If this works well, the experience helps sharpen our skills with regard to our own work. Much of the time, someone else's "fresh eyes" offer insights we have not found on our own, yet this arena is still very much an exchange of time and energy and skill among peers. We're learning together, and helping one another improve.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Telling the Truth

Elsewhere I've written about how my experience as a family member of a murder victim has led me to public advocacy to abolish the death penalty. This isn't a discussion of the pros and cons of the death penalty; it's about story-telling. In general, I use this blog for writerly professional stuff and put more personal issues into my LiveJournal. But I think the process by which we learn to tell the truth in our personal lives is related to the process of excavating the truth in our fiction.

I'm not a political activist. In fact, I've often described myself as allergic to it. I certainly have opinions, but the prospect of placing myself in a confrontational, adversarial position (with those nutsos who don't agree with me, right?) has been overwhelmingly intimidating. It took me a long time to find a way that was at all emotionally possible for me to state my case.

That way, it turns out, was to tell my story.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A bit of authorly happy-dance

My contributor's copies of the September/October issue of Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction arrived yesterday. My last story to appear in it was back in 2009, and it was science fiction, as in space, as in planets. Before that, we have to go back to the Wheeler byline, it was so long ago.

This story is fantasy, one of those that came together in odd and beautiful ways, definitely more on the X-rated side of the scale than my usual, so much so that there's a "not for younger readers" warning in the intro.Then there's the intro description "a deft period fantasy." So consider yourselves warned. Or enticed, as the case may be.

It's just wonderful to see those words in print. Novels are so long between, and the thrill never goes away. At least, not for me.

Oh, did I forget to say? It's called "A Borrowed Heart."

Here's the Table of Contents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dance Like Everyone's Watching

Dancer, by Dan Pellig, 2003
I've been thinking about the advice to "dance like there's nobody watching."* Recently, I had occasion to spend a little time with the young children of a friend, and I was struck by how oppositely they behaved. Everything they did -- jumping on the trampoline, playing piano, working a puzzle -- was an occasion to say, Look at me! Watch me do this! I wonder how so many of us lose that exuberant self-confidence, that joy in sharing, that pleasure of being the center of attention (and knowing that everyone is dancing with us, through us). To be sure, lots of adults do all kinds of things to get attention, but rarely with such generosity of spirit.

(I had the privilege of watching Margot Fonteyn dance, and she demonstrated perfectly the contagious delight in her own excellence.)

So what does this have to do with writing? Some of us write as if nobody is watching, and others as if everybody is watching. For me, I need to do both. My own writing works best when it has both intensely private moments and extravagantly inclusive moments. I need to engage both the child who want everyone in the world to feel how marvelous this thing she's doing is, and the child?adult? who shuts out that world so she can listen only, only to the tiny voice inside.


*(I have not been able to track down the author; answers on snopes.com range from Mark Twain to Susan Clark to William Purkey, so I offer my apologies and applause to whoever did write it.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Villains: Evil and Otherness

Typically, science fiction conventions will offer a panel discussion on villains (and also on heroes, but more along the lines of how to make them less... boring, to put it frankly). Writers and readers love to talk about the bad guys. After all, more often than not, they're more interesting -- not to mention sexier -- than the good guys. Of course they're attractive. They're dark, dangerous, edgy -- in other words, forbidden fruit. Even Jane Austen's naughty boys have a certain intoxicating allure.

Bad guys are also more likely to be complex in interesting, tortured ways, and to be charismatic and cunning, but with fatal flaws that prevent them from being heroes. They possess the capacity for grandeur, except for... But you know all this. You've read the rewrites of classics told from the point of view of the villain. You know every villain is a hero in his own story, it's just that his goals don't align with those of the protagonist, but none of them get up in the morning and say, "Evil! Evil! Rah-rah-rah!"

I've been thinking about why we keep coming back to having villains, as distinct from flawed heroes or misunderstood monsters, in our stories. Aha, you say, to provide conflict, to place obstacles between the hero and his goals. Sure, you say, because there are really only three plots: Man Against Nature, Man Against Man, and Man Against Himself. (I think this is an oversimplification, and I'm not at all sure it's true, but the point is that conflict between characters is one of the enduring themes in story-telling.) Once upon a time, all you had to do was put a man on a black horse or in a black hat, give him a mustache and a name with too many consonants, and everyone would understand that he had no redeeming qualities (and bad dentition). Later, it became desirable to give him a few aspects to admire, and to play around with expectations. Then it became fashionable to portray him as not-really-bad, but wounded or misinformed or warped by his culture. Science fiction and fantasy, not to mention the whole of English literature, abounds in examples.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Laundry Gambit - Distracting Our Thoughts to Let Our Creativity Work

I've begun work on a piece of short fiction, a sort of steampunk-automaton-Underground Railroad-Quaker piece for The Shadow Conspiracy III, through Book View Cafe. (And if you haven't read the first 2 volumes, they are a treat.) My inner Difference Engine is somewhere in the post-novel doldrums. Nonetheless, aided by some research into 18th and 19th Century Quaker writings on the abolition of slavery, the general idea of a story has emerged. (Notice the passive voice - it really feels like I have nothing to do with it.) It's riddled with vagueness, gaps, and illogic, not to mention placeholder figures instead of characters. From experience, I know not to worry; this is normal and transitory.

I also know that if I try to "muscle through" this phase, I'll likely end up with useless, misdirected, and rigid drek (as opposed to fluid, creative, and eminently-revisable drek). For one thing, I'm not ready to crunch out words. I can't emphasize how important it is to be aware of my own rhythms of energy and creative focus. It's a bit like surfing (or how I imagine surfing, as I've done only a little body surfing) - the wave supplies the motive energy - pay attention, be ready when it comes, then swim like mad, but otherwise don't waste your strength.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Children of Kings

The second draft is done, spell-checked, and off to the Marion Zimmer Literary Works Trust for their approval. I may take a play day...or simply fall over into blethering unconsciousness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Story Behind the Story: "The Casket of Brass"

I'm in the process of epublishing a series of short fiction pieces that have appeared in the Norilana editions of Sword & Sorceress. Whyfor? For one thing, the distribution of any small-publisher POD edition is extremely limited. I love these stories, and hope you will, too. I hope that reading about how I came to write them will pique your interest. You can find them on my shelf at Book View Cafe (and can download them from there for your Kindle or Nook), or on the 400/pound/g/o/r/i/l/l/a amazon or Barnes & Noble (links on the slideshow to the left). Here's the first, with more to come.

"The Casket of Brass" began years ago, after Jaydium and Northlight, but before I began working with Marion on a Darkover collaboration. I wanted to try novel-length fantasy, and I started playing around with some images from The Arabian Nights. Not, you must understand, the real Arabian Nights, full of very grisly stuff, but the Arabian Nights of my childhood. As watered-down as those stories were, they offered deliciously exotic adventures, not to mention wonderful language. The image of a statue, part marble and part living man, is very much in keeping with those dream-like stories.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Check out my "Highwayman" Story

Many long years ago, when GEnie was the place to hang out online, at least for the fantasy and science fiction communities, a number of anthologies got put together as a result of these conversations. It was a bit like thos late-night parties at conventions. Someone throws out an idea, and other people throw back variations of it, and pretty soon you've got a themed anthology with an editor and verbal commitments from a a bunch of published authors.

Highwaymen: Rogues and Robbers began with a bunch of us discussing the romanticism of the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson in Jennifer Roberson's author topic. The idea -- imgery, emotion, plot ideas, characters -- had wonderful resonance for many of us. My own came about as a synthesis of an old dream and playing around with the James Bond character, putting him in period drag (and making him considerably less arrogant and more amenable to seeing the error of his male-chauvinist ways). I had, as they say, way too much fun with this story. I hope you'll enjoy it, too. Just click "Read A Story."

For Flash Fiction Lovers

I have to confess that I haven't written any flash fiction...haven't even tried. Something about it intimidates me. Write a 150,000 word novel, piece of cake! But a 150 word story provokes instant paralysis. So I admire people who dive write in and write at this length. Nancy Jane Moore is one of them. Can you imagine writing a flash fiction story every week, week after week? My mind boggles. But she did, and she's put them together in a collection. Here's the skinny:

Nancy Jane Moore wrote her first flash fiction many years ago when every one in her writing group decided to enter a contest for one-page stories. None of them won, but she got hooked and has been writing short-shorts ever since. Her first project for Book View Café was posting a free flash fiction every week for a year. Some were reprints, others older stories that needed one more revision, but quite a few were written in the week they went up. This 52-story collection includes most of those stories and a few new ones as well.

If this piques your interest, you can find it here.