Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in review

My first post here is dated February 8th and this is my 129th post since then.

According to my sidebar count, I wrote 245,250 words this year, though I know that doesn't include the erotica, some other scraps of things and there may be a bit of overlap with last year. I wasn't keeping track of this stuff last January. All I knew then was that my writing was back and I had to make up for lost time.

Of my blog posts, the three most popular were all blogfests: Power of Tension,  the First Campaigner Challenge, and the Made of Awesome!, in that order.

I suppose I should do more blogfests. Then again, drawing an audience isn't what this blog is for right now -- I want people to read my fiction, and I can't post my fiction on my blog if I ever want to make money on it. Maybe someday I'll be using this to promote a book release and fans will come looking for sooper-seekrit background info on their favorite characters.

I'm going to get it
 I can dream, right? Till then, I keep writing.

Some people can draw hundreds of followers by blogging about the same old writing advice that gets re-hashed over and over (because it's all true) and talking about their everyday lives. I know, that's how they tell you to build a blog following. "Connect with people" by sharing personal stuff.

Well, if I was good at connecting with people I wouldn't be writing. To everyone who stops by here and read and comment: thank you so much.

245k: damn, that sounds like a lot. Felt good, though. This year was better than last year and that's the first time I've been able to say that in a while.

I don't do New Year's resolutions -- I just decide to do things. But I'll declare my intentions: I meanto have Course Corrections ready for querying by spring. I think I have a good chance of finishing the fantasy monstrosity. And we'll see what else comes up.

See you in 2012, everybody.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reference photos: soldiers

I've been following the Tumbler feed  #Soldierporn for several months now. Go ahead and click, it's SFW.

Why? Because I'm going to be writing about war. But you're writing about knights. Yes, but there are things that never change about war. Photos of guns and helicopters are all well and good, but the ones that I pull for reference are more about the experience. I'm never going to fully understand what soldiers go through, but I'll take what points of reference I can find.

And this one is just cool:

Where do you find reference photos for abstract things like war?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Music addictions

Translation: filler post, L's misplaced her brain again but she can always find something to say about music. Wishing everybody happy holidays, safe travels, no power outages and securely backed up music libraries.

Things made clear to me by my loss of my entire iTunes library... I sorely missed the following bands' music:

VAST. Recovered Music for People, Visual Audio Sensory Theater, and the double album Turquoise & Crimson. Re-ripped Nude from the disc. That covers most of his best stuff,  but I still want April and Me and You back.

Live. I cannot function without some Live in my playlist. Recovered Secret Samadhi and Throwing Copper, and can re-rip V. I keep Birds of Pray and Distance to Here on the CD jukebox, just for variety.

Linkin Park. Got my Hybrid Theory and Meteora back and Reanimation was the very first CD I re-ripped. Note to self: need more Linkin Park albums.

The XX. These kids only have one album, but damn I missed it. Bought it off Amazon and fortunately I had put it on their cloud storage system.

Sigur Ros. They're a recent discovery for me, but I had put the entire album Takk... onto my Saints of War soundtrack -- I love the epic scale that some of the songs achieve.  The handful of tracks I scavenged pirated collected to decide if I liked them probably won't be coming back though. Note to self: need more Sigur Ros.

Boards of Canada. This cornerstone of my ambient collection has been gutted by the crash. I saved a few tracks that happened to be on my iPod at the time. Depressed about this.

"Moonlight Shadow" remixes. It may sound silly, but I had a kick-ass collection of all the remixes of "Moonlight Shadow" (originally created by Mike Oldfield) I could find. I had twenty of them. All gone. Depressing. So I went to SoundCloud looking for new ones. Found a few worth having.

Then I got distracted looking for remixes of specific songs, like the Pet Shop Boys' "Love, Etc." and "Home and Dry." The Church's "Under the Milky Way." Ooo, they must have Depeche Mode remixes too, somewhere...

Life goes on.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Risky but not reckless

I recently went looking around YA Confidential for some thoughts on how teenagers think about romance and relationships and I believe that's where I saw a comment about how difficult it can be to let your teenaged characters make teenager mistakes. How difficult it is to keep the experience and that longer-range view you earned to yourself.

But for the life of me, I can't find the post to link to. I still recommend the blog, though. I don't write YA, but my fantasy characters are mostly teenagers and it's been a long time since I was a teenager.

I'm one of about three writers (it seems like, sometimes) who does not write YA, does not read YA, and to be honest doesn't see why such a thing needs to be separated out onto its own shelf because teenagers are perfectly capable of reading and enjoying "grown-up" books. Teens want to read about teens? Sure, but there's no need to make the story any less complex or compelling than if you were talking to a 40-year-old. Heck, look around the YA-writing blogosphere -- a lot of people say the same thing.

I remember reading an article in which Madeline L'Engle explained she wasn't sure why so many of her stories were classified as children's books -- they were about children, true, but the stories weren't aimed at children. I'd still hand a 10-year-old (or a 40-year-old) A Wrinkle In Time in a heartbeat, though. It's a good story.


National Geographic had an article about the current research on teenaged brain structure (now that you can study that without cutting said brain open) and how the current thinking is that the non-conformity and risk-taking of the maturing mind is an evolutionarily advantageous stage to go through. It has its risks, of course, but few risks generally bring few rewards.

I particularly found the anecdote the article begins with interesting -- the author's son was pulled over for speeding on the highway and freely admitted that he'd been breaking the law, was willing to take the consequences, etc. But the son took exception at his speeding being labelled "recklessness." He explained that he'd been very careful about it, in fact.

I think the author is right about that encapsulating a lot of things about teenagers. That little anecdote's been on my mind a lot recently as I've been writing.

As the writer, I need to think about all the long-range consequences that my teenagers aren't thinking about -- but I need to let them do something that looks reasonable to someone who isn't thinking about five or ten years down the line. Someone in the grip of hormones and curiosity and who is starting to realize just what s/he can do.

It makes for some headlong action... until they smack into a brick wall of reality, at least. That's what drama is all about, right?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Kicking characters to the curb

When I got under the hood and started rebuilding this fantasy monstrosity that I'm re-writing, I figured that in the process of tightening up the storyline (desperately needed) and changing the underlying structure of the world (so things make more sense) I would eliminate some characters and their secondary storylines.

I knew I'd be murdering some darlings. Well, cutting them loose to be more accurate. They could always turn up someplace else.

One wasn't so hard to let go. His name was Linker.

One of my MCs, Anders, originally had two friends and together they were the high-profile troublemakers on the local party circuit. (It's a fantasy story, but I figure some aspects of teenage life only change in the execution, not their essential nature...) The two friends were Theo and Linker.

Linker's side of the story became irrelevant due to the worldbuilding changes. And he was something of a jerk as well, so it was easy to give him the boot. To be fair, he did have some interesting moments and he put my heroine in some uncomfortable situations which I may need to recreate depending on how things work out down the line.

The remaining friend, Theo, will probably be put in that role. On the downside of eliminating Linker, it seems Theo has picked up a bit more jerkiness to compensate. We'll see how that plays out.

The more difficult character to drop was my heroine's younger brother, Klaus.

I liked Klaus. He was unfocused and kinda flighty and didn't fit in where he ought to. He got into a fair amount of trouble, needless to say. There was a nice, sharp moment where his actual relationship with Anders crashed up against their formal relationship -- in that Anders had to mete out some discipline as a master when they'd been acting more like friends. They both slunk away from that scene angry and hurt.

That won't be happening, now. I'm sorry to see it go (and some other fun stuff that Klaus was involved in) but there will be other good moments to take its place. His role can be filled by other characters and the point where he became an awkward problem will be eliminated.

To some degree, killing darlings does require confidence that you can write something else that's just as dramatically tasty as what you're cutting. Maybe the fact that I've got dozens of novels trunked away helps me with that -- while they're all essentially crap, they've all also got good moments in there.  I've written tasty dramatic stuff before and I'll do it again. It's getting all the other parts up to par that's tricky...

You can cut good stuff. It will sting. But there will be more good stuff. What have you had to cut recently?

Friday, December 9, 2011

On romance in fantasy

The writer's gut: Semper vigilo
I had a partial post for Thursday the 8th, but I looked at it that morning and my gut shot it down for being disorganized and not particularly interesting.

Which left me with the question: what is pressing on my brain, as I plow through part 2 of this fantasy monstrosity, that I could blog about?

And unfortunately, the answer is: romance.

I don't read the genre. I have nothing against romantic relationships in stories, of course, but the genre has always faced an uphill battle with me. There are many tropes that I could rail against, but it boils down to the same problem that The King of Elfland's Second Cousin pointed out (see point #3 here) (and then read his whole series on reader trust) about the old Prophesied Savior tradition in fantasy: lack of tension.

We all know what the goal is and we all know that failure is not part of the genre. The market is so well delineated that you can find your favorite styles and heat levels by brand name.  It's not unusual for historic, scientific and logical accuracy to be sacrificed to get that Happily Ever After. Yes, I have read a few romances and I lived to tell the tale, but I haven't yet enjoyed one.

Somebody out there is thinking you just haven't read the good stuff by Favorite Author -- and that may be true. I reserve the right to revise my opinion.

I am thinking about romance because despite my exasperation with the genre, my fantasy monstrosity has a strong dose of romance in it. One ignores tropes at one's own peril. Even if they're in a genre you don't intend to emulate? Yes. Maybe even especially if. I know I have already stomped all over some romance tropes and Part II isn't even done yet. 

Romance is an enormous genre and well beloved by its fans. Ignore them at your peril. Stomp around in their favorite garden at your peril, too.

My nerdish compulsion to acquire information kicks in at this point and fills me with the vague dread that I'm going to need to read some more romance (fantasy or science fiction flavored, preferably) and read up on the structuring thereof.

Why? Because a writer shouldn't do anything accidentally. That's something that Uncle Jim encapsulated very well at the Viable Paradise workshop -- it's an underlying theme of a lot of writing advice, but I haven't often heard it made into a point on its own.

I have resolved not to do anything accidentally, which includes falling into the hackneyed tropes of a genre I'm not familiar with. Have you?

(Feel free to recommend fantasy romance books -- and I mean solidly alternate-world fantasy -- if you have any favorites. I'm familiar with Mercedes Lackey and a fan of Lynn Flewelling, but I'd consider them the romantic side of fantasy rather than the fantasy side of romance IYKWIM.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Worldbuilding: Blunt trauma

Well, no, I'm not inventing new ways to inflict blunt trauma. I can't top the millions of years of research that has already gone into that.

Rather, this is a realism issue. I'm writing about a physician's apprentice during a medieval-tech-level war, so there is going to be plenty of blunt trauma. Penetrating trauma too, but we can get into that later if we want to.

Actually, I haven't even gotten to the war yet; my little kingdom hosts a yearly jousting tournament in the late autumn. The national championships, as it were. Excellent chance to inflict blunt trauma on each other.

Here are some of the things I found myself needing to invent ways to treat in my fantasy world:

Hemothorax: Hemo = blood, thorax = chest area. When ribs break, they can tear the surrounding tissues and cause bleeding. This can happen without breaking the skin, so the blood has nowhere to go and builds up between the layers of tissue. (Your organs have been individually wrapped for your protection. And also bundled in groups. These wrapping layers have a bunch of names and lie directly on top of each other, but are not necessarily connected to each other... so blood and sometimes air (that would be pneumothorax) can get in between.)

Your lungs are fragile things, and a growing lump of blood in your chest cavity cramps their style. You breathe faster to try to get more air, your heart speeds up, you show signs of suffocation (turning blue, cool skin, etc.) This can be fatal.

Treatment: Cut the flesh to let the blood drain out and stop the bleeding. You can find the place to cut by tapping and listening to the hollowness of the chest IIRC. Careful of clots, they will clog the incision.

Ruptured spleen: Nowadays this is caused by car accidents or getting tackled by a linebacker. I'm willing to bet that falling off your horse at full tilt would be similar to a car accident -- this would not be as common an injury as broken bones, but it could happen.

Your spleen filters your blood supply, and thus a lot of blood moves through it. If it's smashed, it's going to bleed a lot and that blood will build up inside the abdominal cavity. This can be fatal due to blood loss. If the bleeding stops, you're still going to be swollen and in a lot of pain while your body clears the mess and tries to repair the damage.

Nowadays, surgeons go in and remove the spleen. You can manage without it. But in primitive conditions, that's not an option unless you have magic on hand. Herbal painkillers might take the edge off, but I'm thinking that for pain management you'd need something opium-based.

Flail chest: This is another unusual injury, but it looks dramatic. Flail chest happens when three or more of the ribs have been completely broken in two places so that there's an area that is not anchored to the rib cage at all. Just the skin and muscle holding it together.

This looks scary because the act of breathing is going to cause this area to move in the "wrong" direction with respect to the ribcage -- it moves outward when you exhale and inward when you inhale.

This really is scary because if you got hit that badly there is probably all kinds of internal damage to your lungs as well. The flail chest itself is not the life-threatening part of the problem -- it can be stabilized with bandages and will heal itself as any broken ribs will. Meanwhile, the healer needs to address any hemothorax, pneumothorax, bruising and bleeding in the lungs themselves, and so forth. The first two can be treated without magical intervention. The second two... maybe one could stitch a wounded lung even in primitive conditions. Infection is kinda guaranteed. It's a tough call.

What sorts of injuries do you inflict on your characters?
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