Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hero on a Quest

This month, the Great Fantasy Traveling Round Table looks at "The Hero and the Quest." There are some thoughtful posts from host Warren Rochelle, Chris Howard, Carole McDonnnell, and Sylvia Kelso. Here' what occurred to me: 

Once upon a time, a hero represented a very particular character, an archetype if you will. He was invariably male, either a youth or in the prime of life, neither a child nor infirm with age; he was physically powerful and if not morally irreproachable, clearly a “good guy.” It was fine for him to have a flaw or two, so long as it did not interfere with his ability to accomplish great deeds and conquer mighty foes. Occasionally, the flaw would prove his downfall, as in the case of Achilles. The tradition that stretches from Odysseus, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh continued through King Arthur and his knights, to Tarzan, the superheroes of comic books, Doc Savage, and James Bond. True, there were occasional female-heroes in this mold, but mostly they imitated the men, only with brass bikinis, improbably high heels, and better fashion sense. What made them heroic, men and women alike, were physical prowess, lofty ideals, and larger-than-life goals. In other words, they were Worthy of The Noble Quest.

The Quest was always something beyond the reach of the ordinary person. No average plowman or shop-keeper could aspire to find the Grail or slay the dragon. The Quest usually involved what Joseph Campbell called “the hero’s journey,” meaning that the central character must leave behind the familiar, venture into unknown terrain fraught with danger, and then return home. Sometimes he is changed by his experience, sometimes he merely puts himself back on the shelf until the next plea for help.

The function of this kind of Hero is not only as a Campbellian agent – that is, to guide the reader through a transformative journey – but as an instrument of Order and of The Triumph of Good. (Notice how the topic lends itself to unnecessary capitalization?) The world has veered toward Chaos, if not actually toppled headlong into the abyss, and the task of the Hero is to set things right. (I suspect that one modern incarnation of the classical Hero is the detective, who restores right social order by solving puzzles that lead to the apprehension of wrong-doers.) One of the implications here is that only those of noble birth, etc., and who are favored by the gods have the capacity to do great deeds. Aforementioned nobles undoubtedly relished stories that demonstrated them how superior they were and didn’t mind the peasantry being reminded of it. This propagated a hierarchical power structure in the same way as did the notion of the divine right of kings. It reinforced the notion that those with political power were inherently better (stronger, luckier, sexier, purer of thought, beloved by the gods) than those who had none.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Children of Kings sighting!

Total author squee: the first glimpse of the actual book (at the DAW office, even if I don't have it in my hands):

GUEST BLOG: Lois Gresh on Paranormal Romance

Lois Gresh's new novel, Nightfall, is a New Adult Paranormal Romance. Here she talk about her writing career and what she's learned about crafting good stories (oh, and a few words about Nightfall, too!)
When I first learned how to read, I instantly loved books.  I actually remember the moment.  I spent a lot of time at the library and reading an ancient (1930s!) set of encyclopedias that my mother kept in the hallway outside my bedroom. At 9, I wrote a 55-page science fiction story; at 12, a 220-page “report” about ancient Egypt; at 16, a 250-page book about poverty; at 22, a 500-page novel; at 23, a 400-page novel; and during college classes, I wrote horror stories featuring my professors. In my early twenties, I wrote two full-length mystery novels that twisted themselves into dark comedies. I switched to dark fiction, what's called weird fiction -- a blend of fantasy, paranormals, science fiction, and psychological horror -- and sold a bunch of stories. I ended up writing a thriller novel for Ballantine/Del Rey, then went on to write a fleet of pop culture books while continuing to work on my novels and short stories.

I usually have a pre-planned idea of how the story will end, but does it end that way? Very rarely. Typically, the characters take on lives of their own and twist my endings for me. I don’t get writer’s block (knock on wood, etc.) I always have too many stories floating in my mind that I want to tell for the amount of time I’m able to write. As for where I write, anything will distract me. So I write in a secluded environment, and I even blast a white noise machine to drown out household noises. 
The most important elements of good writing are the triad of character, plot, and theme. You need characters with real emotions and needs. Your characters require conflicts to overcome.  One or more themes -- such as “be good to other people” or “it’s not cool to lie to somebody who loves you” or “love can overcome anything” or “love is more important than where you live or what you have” -- provides your story with emotional impact.

Monday, January 28, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Juliette Wade on The Internet Trap and What To Do About It

If you're a writer, I imagine you are familiar with the problem of the internet trap. You turn on the computer to start writing, and an hour later you're still on the internet. You think of the pages you have still to write and you want to scream, Why is this happening? How can I stop it?

So I thought I'd begin this week by talking about why the internet is such a trap, at least for me. And also, thinking about how to manage the whole thing. I hope that my thoughts may help those of you out there who experience something of the same thing.

Internet Trap #1. Small flashes of wonderful in a torrent of irrelevant

I've heard partaking of the internet compared to drinking from a fire hose. I don't quite agree with this, because it suggests that if you could manage to take a sip, it would be good water that you were getting. To me it's more like a baseball game: you'd better have good friends with you and be doing something in the stands, because most of what's going on is stuff you don't care about anyway (in this I reveal my bias against baseball - sorry baseball fans!). Each critical play is buried in a ton of waiting around. On the internet, sometimes I'll have a day where I find tons of links I want to pass on to my blog readers. Then I'll go for weeks without encountering anything to care about at all.

Internet Trap #2. News

Yes, this is where I get the vast majority of my news about the world. And though I spend a lot of time in worlds of my own, I do care about what's going on. So I find myself clicking through to read about current events when I should probably be writing, or at least not reading my sixth article in a row about a particular issue. Even one I really care deeply about.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Treasures from the Back Yard

    We live in a rural area, or rural-ish. This means wildlife of various sorts, including the usual coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, smaller critters like mice and moles and shrews. (And bobcats and an occasional mountain lion up in the hills.)

And mule deer. Oh gosh yes, deer.

Our garden is well-fenced and we don't have much problem with deer eating things. Our German Shepherd Dog does his best to convince them the property is guarded by Ravenous Deer-Eating Monsters.

Last week, when my husband was clearing storm debris  (outside The Fence), the dog got very interested in something hidden in the undergrowth. Finally, the dog emerged with a picked-clean deer femur, looking very pleased with himself. Most of the skeleton had been scattered, but we found the skull tangled in the plants. This is the condition we found it in.

We think it might be one of two stags we saw wandering by not too long ago. We have no idea why this one died, as both looked quite healthy. There's a little gnawing on the left antler and part of one maxilla is gone, but otherwise the skull is as you see it, in amazing condition.
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Jaydium - Chapter 30


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 30

Eril stormed out of the laboratory with Kithri at his side and Brianna trailing behind. Kithri, her mouth set in an ominously tight line, kept pace with him as if she were his shadow. Every few steps, Brianna leapt into a trot to catch up to him.

"I can=t believe you=d let Kithri proceed with her crazy idea!" she exclaimed. "I hope you realize she may well have jeopardized my entire research program-- Will you slow down and listen to me?"

Chattering on like a goddamned sand-hen, Eril thought. He clamped his teeth together and kept on going, not trusting what was left of his nerves to risk answering Brianna.He=d never felt less sympathetic toward her--pompous, insensitive, judgmental bitch! It wasn=t fair to vent his own feelings on her, but he was too upset to make allowances. He wished there were some merciful way he could shut her up before she said something unforgivable--or he did. 
Kithri kept her eyes straight ahead and gave no visible sign she heard anything Brianna said. Eril remembered that taut carriage to her shoulders from just before she took Brushwacker and left them to be nabbed by the space pirates. Skies only knew what she=d do here, especially when Brianna said things like, "I know Kithri hasn=t a shred of training in making evaluations like this, but I assumed you knew better. You at least seem to have some sort of education!"

They made their way past a plaza filled with free-standing, shoulder-high walls. Gastropoids wandered through the maze, either singly or in small groups, hooting softly to each other and sending ripples of brightness across the walls. What function the structures served, Eril could not guess, unless they were traditional designs, modelled after the tidal baffling systems of the aquatic city. This was his favorite part of the city, but he didn=t stop to admire it now.

"Need I point out," Brianna rattled on in between gasps for breath, "there is a significant difference between helping these people develop better means of communication and engaging in irresponsible neuropsionic tinkering with our host scientist!"

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jaydium - Chapter 29


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 29

Kithri opened her eyes and gasped. Natural sensation flooded through her--the air whistling through her lungs, her heart pounding, the pressure of the floor under her thighs. Eril=s fingers gripping her, digging into her shoulders. She lay in his arms just outside 'Wacker=s open cockpit door. High above them arched a dome of sparkling crystal.

The sensation of incredible relief vanished instantly, replaced with the memory of who she was, where she was, what she=d tried to do.

"Raerquel..." her voice came out in a croak. "Raerquel?"

"It seems to be stunned, but you--"

"Never mind about me!" Kithri jerked free and hauled herself to her feet. "I=m fine, see? No aftereffects or anything."

Her knees suddenly turned to jelly and lost all semblance of structural integrity. Breathing heavily, she caught herself against 'Wacker=s pitted side.

"You=re about as fine as a space-sick rookie," said Eril. "What happened to you in there?"

"Forget what happened to me! What have we done to Raerquel?" Kithri reached into the cockpit and laid one hand on the gastropoid=s silvery skin. There was no response, no change in its cool skin.

She started trembling. It was the coolness more than anything else that reminded her of her father=s hand, how she held it through the long night until the last bit of body warmth had seeped away.

Monday, January 14, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Jeannie Davide-Rivera on Writing From Our Strengths: Autism's Insights Into Fictional Characters

Autism is my worst writing enemy, and my best writing friend.

Writing characters is a challenge in my fiction writing because I am autistic. I have great difficulty writing believable, consistently inconsistent characters. These are the kind of characters that say one thing but do something opposite, whose motivations and actions do not match; in other words, who act like real people. 

What does my autism have to do with my character writing problems?

Conventional writing wisdom says that characters need arcs; they must change over some way. This makes no sense to me. Why does a character need to change? I don’t change.
I’m told to write believable, realistic characters—consistently inconsistent characters. Inconsistent? That’s not how my mind words. I’m a “Say what you mean, and mean what you say, please” person.
           What motivates your characters? What causes them to act, or react in a certain way? How do other characters respond to her? What motivates a character? I don’t know, in fact, what motivates people. People are strange; they make no sense.
Struggling to understand character’s motivations highlights how much I don’t understand people. How completely and totally mind-blind I really am; how I can never figure out what makes people tick. Although my mind-blindness hinders my ability to write effective characters, my autism gives me many writing advantages.

There are aspects of the autistic brain that are wired perfectly for effective writing.

The autistic writer is literal-minded by neurology. Our brains are hard-wired to think and take words literally. Remember Amelia Bedelia the literal-minded maid who continually misinterpreted instructions to comical effect? Amelia must have been autistic.
We have an innate need to get to the point, no chit-chat, no small talk—give me the facts and let me get on with my day. The need to get to the point makes it easier to filter the “noise” out of our writing, to say what we mean, and mean what we say, and to do it quickly.
Autistic people tend to focus on details rather than the whole. That makes us very detail oriented. The need for exactitude causes our writing to be rich in accurate details that many people often miss.  An apple cannot simply be red, what kind of red was it? Crimson, candy-apple, garnet, burgundy, ruby, blood red—what color is blood red exactly?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cover for The Children of Kings

Here it is (the painting is a wrap-around, so this is only the front).

Warning: the description on contains spoilers. Major spoilers. DAW is working to get that changed, but be warned. Just click on the pre-order button and ignore the text!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jaydium - Chapter 28


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 28

Kithri lay on her back beneath Brushwacker=s mangled nose, amazed that something was at last going right. After endless delays and mistakes, checking and re-checking, the basic modifications had been completed. She was now ready to fine-adjust the physiological parameters. Eril sat in the pilot=s seat, monitoring the biohomeostasis functions. Behind him, Raerquel occupied all of the co-pilot=s seat as well as a goodly portion of the hold.

"Shipbrain says it=s monolinking partially with Raerquel, so we=re in the right orbital," Eril reported.

"So far, so good." Kithri used the optical stylus to guide a final connection before repositioning the protective panel. She clambered to her feet and stuck her upper body into the cabin, twisting to give Raerquel a clear view of her translator panel.

"How are you and shipbrain getting on?" she asked.

"I am not yet experiencing...linkage," the alien replied. "This ship=s brain is different from other tools that are an extension of the self. Tools resemble water--they can be many things until instructed. Ship=s brain also, only its limits are rigid. Like rock instead of water. It tastes dry."

Dry? Kithri wondered, withdrawing from the cabin. Not the way I=d have put it. But at least Raerquel=s getting something from shipbrain. We=ve done that much.

Eril slipped off the headset and replaced it in its holder. "Everything=s clear on this end. You ready for the next step, Kithri?"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January 2013 - What I’ve Been Reading…

The What We’re Reading Wednesday meme is making the rounds. True to form, I offer up some reflections on what I have been and am reading Not On A Wednesday.

I’ve been slowly working my way through two series: Bernard Cornwell’s “Richard Sharpe” books and the Sookie Stackhouse “Southern Vampire” novels of Charlaine Harris. Each of these is a story in itself, about which more is forthcoming below. I say “slowly” because I want to make them last, so I ration them out a chapter here, a book there, with breaks for other reading.

The Cornwell is undoubtedly Ioan Gruffud’s fault. When my younger daughter still lived at home, we watched the A & E “Horatio Hornblower” series together (a precursor to her inflicting Dr. Who upon her unsuspecting mother, who then retaliated by knitting her The Scarf, but that’s another tale entirely). Years later, my husband – who normally does not care for movies in general and anything with fighting in particular – expressed willingness to indulge me with Friday night videos. We noodle around with every dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth I we could find and then advanced to Horatio Hornblower, both the series with Gruffudd and the movie with Gregory Peck. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the infantry’s role in the Napoleonic Wars. Sean Bean’s “Richard Sharpe” to the rescue. Having watched the series, I of course grabbed for the books. They are interesting in many ways. For one thing, they aren’t written in order. The series begins in the early middlish part, when Sharpe has already saved the life of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and become an officer “up through the ranks,” an elevation much frowned upon by both his fellow officers and the common soldiers he is to command. Then, after quite a number of adventures, Cornwell goes back to the beginning, as it were, fills in a lot of background, so you can read them in the order in which they were written or in chronological order. For another, each book centers on one battle. One battle! And has not a speck of flab anywhere.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Jaydium - Chapter 27


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 27

The Clan Hath engineer-scientists had moved the scrubjet to a huge, airy dome on the western outskirts of the city. As soon as they arrived, Raerquel turned the entire laboratory over to Eril and Kithri. They spent the better part of a day planning the modifications. At first, Brianna hung over Eril=s shoulder, scribbling notes on the seaweed-gelatin sheets the gastropoids supplied. By the time they were ready to begin, she=d gone off on her own to explore the rest of the Clan Hath enclave. Once it became apparent Lennart would be of little use, he too disappeared. Eril was too busy to wonder what he was up to.

What Kithri suggested, the adaptation of the duoapparatus for gastropoid usage, proved to be far from trivial. The shipbrain and its sophisticated connections to the guidance systems were not designed for easy access. Rather the reverse, they=d been shielded from both the insidious Cerrano dust and the prying of incompetent, perhaps drunken, fingers. Spacebound installations were scarcely better protected

In order to expose the connections between shipbrain and the headsets, as well as the sensors and flight control, they=d have to cut through Brushwacker=s ceramometallic hull. They both knew, without having to say it aloud, that without elaborate re-sealing, it would no longer be safe at duo speeds. 

Eril squelched an irrational desire to maintain the flightworthiness of the tiny ship. If the planet=s blown to powder, where could a scrubjet take us that would be safe? Besides, we=re not doing this to save our own skins.

The jaydium cutter was cool and light in Eril=s hands. He paused before slicing through the smooth patina of Brushwacker=s skin. He glanced at Kithri, standing behind the stubby wings and holding several of the sculpted therine tools. She=d always acted so possessive about the 'jet, as if it were everything she owned. Skies, it was everything she owned. Yet now she said nothing, only watched with her mouth so tight it looked white. Without a word, she slid beneath the ship and began to work through the rear panel.

Breaching the ship=s seals without destroying the complex machinery inside turned out to be even more tedious and demanding than Eril had imagined. If he=d had any inclination to become a mechanic, it quickly vanished. Burned fingertips, creaking knuckles, aching neck muscles and red, watering eyes seemed to be an intrinsic part of the job. He groaned inwardly at the prospect of the hours of work before they could begin recalibrating the circuitry for the gastropoid nervous system.

Finally his eyes refused to focus on anything closer than his foot. His fingers on the jaydium cutter felt as if they=d been fused into permanent claws. He shoved himself out from under the scrubjet=s nose and clambered to his feet. Kithri swore as she banged her elbow against the cut-away wall.

"We both need a break," he said, rubbing his fingers. To his surprise, they straightened, although with protest. He shook his shoulders, trying to loosen them.

Kithri rolled out from under the ship and sat up. She muttered, "You can if you want to. I=ll just check--"

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Warren Rochelle on "What's Next?"

 Warren Rochelle worked as a librarian for eleven years, alternating between North Carolina and Cartagena, Colombia. In 1989, he decided to follow his heart and left school libraries and started graduate school again, this time in creative writing, at UNC Greensboro. His first book was a critical work on Le Guin’s fiction, Communities of the Heart: The Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, Liverpool University Press,2001. He  is now a Professor of English at University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He's the author of The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007) and The Called (2010).

 What is the working title of your next book?
*Hmm. I have a completed novel, The Golden Boy, which is currently being edited by Nancy Berman, a free-lance editor friend of mine.  I am working on a story collection, with the working title, Happily Ever After and Other Stories. I have a novel-in-progress, The Werewolf and His Boy, almost finished but I have put it on hold to finish the story collection.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
*I don’t have an agent, alas. Self-publishing is an option, but before I try that, I am planning on sending the manuscripts to various small presses that have published similar books.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
*The Golden Boy:
The original idea came from the notion that all fairy tales are true, and that the magical and mundane coexist, although the latter is not always aware of the former, or rather doesn’t believe in the former—at first.
Happily Ever After:
Homophobia persists, lingers, and is girding its loins to fight to the death. And as a result, stories are still being published and films are still being made in which the gay characters do not have happy endings, usually with one dying, leaving the survivor to mourn.  I was determined to write a collection of stories in which my gay protagonists have happily ever afters—more or less.
The Werewolf and His Boy:
*The story that inspired this novel, “Lowe’s Wolf” (published in the Spring 2010 issue of Icarus) was inspired from a dream my partner had about a wolf hiding in Lowe’s.