Monday, October 20, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 2

I've been to Shangri-la and I need to go back.

Sometimes people ask writers/artists "where do you get your ideas?" In my opinion, if you can't see the constant blizzard of ideas around you then you aren't cut out for art. But some places are more conducive to ideas than others, to be honest. It would be easy to say that Bhutan is an interesting place because it's beautiful. It's more complicated than that, though.

I had no explanation at first as to why I got choked up in the airplane and shed tears as we flew out of Paro. The beds were miserably hard, I went to every meal ravenously hungry, and it was easily the most physically draining vacation of my life. I should've been eager to leave.


Well, for the moment I will just post some photos for their visual inspirational value. Why this trip was important to me has a lot of factors, of course, several of which are more personal that I want to get into on this blog. I'll try to talk a little about the people and the culture in a later post.

Lots of clouds? Yes. The average day in Bhutan is "partly cloudy with scattered afternoon showers and rainbows." Yes, rainbows are pretty much a daily sight in Bhutan; it makes the place even more magical.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What the universe gives you, part 1

I like to say that the universe will give you what you need for your art. By which I mean, look at what the universe has brought you and say: this is what I need for my art. The challenge is to figure out how it fits in.

I went on my trip to Bhutan and Nepal looking for these things. Needless to say, ideas and inspiration came in a blizzard.

Bhutan is so beautiful that it defies reality simply by existing. More on that later.

Kathmandu, Nepal, isn't the idyllic little town it used to be, though. Nepal suffered a long civil war in the 90s/00s, and thousands of refugees piled into the city. It feels a lot like an Indian city now: over-crowded, smelling of rotten trash, beggars on every corner.

I saw some things that I thought might be of interest to my fellow writers, though. Let me be the universe that's giving you what you need, for a moment. Take a look at the cremation platforms on the banks of the Bagmati River.

Hindus cremate their dead, usually within a few hours of death. They believe that this frees the soul to re-enter the reincarnation cycle, so it's important to them.

The body's wrapped in a shroud, carried around the pyre three times clockwise by the bearers, and laid down. River water is poured in the mouth. I'm sure that various prayers are said -- I was across the river, so I couldn't hear.

Our tour guide said that no death certificate is issued, but they do keep track. Suspicious deaths get a full investigation before the body is cremated.

The smell? Mostly charcoal, because it takes a lot of wood to burn a body. There's a slight hint of meat, but it's far less than at your average barbecue.

Only those of the untouchable caste can oversee cremations. Castes are built into the Hindu world-view and touch every aspect of life -- the platforms in these photos were for ordinary people. There were platforms for higher caste folks just upriver.

When the pyre has burned down, the platform is cleared straight into the river. 

Our tour guide said that when he was a boy, this river was crystal clear. It's only since the population explosion that it's become filthy. Dumping cremated remains didn't have much impact on the water quality.

On a different note, I also saw bowls made from teak leaves for sale in a local market. They're held together by little bamboo pins, so they are 100% biodegradable and renewable.

Pretty clever, I think.

Seen anything unusual lately?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Surprise cover reveal!

Hawks & Rams
Heathric never wanted to be a thief, but his cousin’s scheme was the only option left. Crossing into the neighboring kingdom, stealing sheep, and getting away with it once — that was luck. The second time, trouble follows them home; the local Ranger squad won’t let thieves terrorize their people, and the Rangers cross the border in pursuit. 

Heathric still aches from losing his only boyfriend. One of the Rangers has all but given up on finding a lover who truly wants him. Opposite sides of cross-border banditry is a rough way to meet that perfect match.

2014's been an odd year 
The above is the query letter I sent along with the Hawks & Rams manuscript. Apparently it was good enough to get the editor at Dreamspinner to keep reading.

Hawks & Rams will be my first release with a publisher -- it's due out early in 2015. And the cover art is great! H&R is a fantasy m/m romance with plenty of action and tension. There's some steaminess too, but it's not the focus.

Going through the publishing process with a small press, after having done it myself so many times, has been interesting. I'll try to blog about it after I get home from my trip.

What trip? The trip of a lifetime: two weeks in Bhutan and Nepal as companion to my parents. I've been looking forward to this for months, of course, and now it's functioning as a dividing line in my year. Things will need to be different after I get back.

It's been a tumultuous summer for me. It's also been a more difficult writing year than I expected -- as you can see in my writing progress sidebar, my productivity is in the toilet. My writing discipline has slipped and I need to get my focus back.

For now, the good side of the story: Disciple, Part V is out. Part VI is with the editor already. You can still get Part I for free most everywhere or pick up the Disciple Half-Omnibus if you want the first half of the series in a nice chunk. I have several writing projects to work on and ideas to develop.

How has your 2014 been going?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Problematic horrors

Innocence and isolation
I've heard it said that the cornerstones of horror are innocence and isolation. The innocence aspect is supposed to encourage audience sympathy, but personally? I know I'm no innocent and I'm not invested in protecting innocence the way, say, a parent might be.

It seems to me the "innocence" aspect leads to a tendency of horror being inflicted on somebody just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: they moved into a haunted house, their car broke down in the boonies, etc. I have never found that particularly compelling because the story is not about the characters, it's about a series of horrible things that happened.

Isolation can be physical, social, or psychological and ensures that the hero/ine faces the enemy alone. Often, they are outgunned by the villain(s) as well. This can lead to Bambi vs Godzilla syndrome, in my opinion, and solutions being handed down by the god in the machine (the author). Those aren't satisfying endings, since the heroine did not "earn" anything in the story.

This may be why I'm not a fan of horror -- on top of any additional writing problems manifesting in bad dialogue, illogical plot lines, and cardboard characters. Horror is as prone to those problems as any genre. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say that any genre is as prone to that as horror is.

A proverbial virgin being chased by a serial killer, or haunted by the angry ghost of some old house? That's just a cosmic misunderstanding. An oversized pain in the ass.

In my opinion, a dab of gore will do ya in most situations. If you've read my stories you know I'm willing to get explicit and horrible when the characters are willing to do that. Horror as a genre is a different beast, though. I'm treading closer to it than usual in my current WIP, which is turning out to be a dark fantasy.

What makes the story dark, in my opinion, is not the gruesome things that happen but why those gruesome things happen. It's also the hero's temptation to let those whys infiltrate him and lead him to begin inflicting horrors himself. The drama of resisting corruption has a particular attraction to me.

If you were going to write a horror story, how would you make it compelling to yourself? What makes you shudder?
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