Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Writing Rut

I'm in a rut. I've been working on the same book for two and a half years now. And yes, for two of those years I've had major health problems. But I'm really, really ready to move on, at least emotionally, even if the physical is struggling to catch up.

I feel like I'm in a rut with this story. The one note I get consistently from my critique group is "all dialog, no action." And they're right. That's how I write to begin with. As I edit this the pages I find myself cutting, cutting, cutting. The dialog rambles. It runs on for pages. It reveals stuff the audience doesn't need to know, either yet or ever. In the midst of all those cuts- sometimes half a page or more goes right out the window- I lose the idea of adding action and description. And that's just my major problem with the early chapters.

If feels like it's all info dump. But there's a lot of info that the various characters need. Daisy (and the audience) are totally new to this world. She needs to be told how everything works. Then we discover that Daisy has had some exposure to this world, and The Boss needs to know about it. Everything so far takes place in a beauty salon, except for a fight with her roommate, which exists illustrate how Daisy is an outsider with her own "people", so that we'll see clearly why she becomes so attached to her new situation and why she wouldn't just run for the hills at the first opportunity.

I've written up through the first major turning point. Daisy has done something that commits her to one side of the coming fight. My problem is, I don't know where to go from here. I picked up with this year's NaNo with a sub-plot. Someone comes to Daisy looking for help with an off the books job. I know more or less how that is going to resolve. I also know that it can't all happen in one blurp in the middle of the book. It's got to weave in with the other story lines. But for now, it's a blurp. I'll figure out how it weaves later. Being a sub-plot (although I think it's going to be a rather important one) the arc is much smaller. Less for the characters to do. That I'm not too worried about.

It's the continuation of the main plot that has me worried. There is an attack, and the group responds by.... I don't know. Counter attack would be an obvious plan. but counter attack who? There's no counter organization that they know of, all though there've been some fishy things happening lately. They don't have an id on the attackers. I guess they could work on that. But how? How do I want to have them figure it out? I don't want it to be cliche; I do want it to fit in with the world that I've built so far. There have to be multiple red herrings. More attacks on different fronts. The humans have formed their own little group- they could be a distraction.

Maybe I need to do some more work on my Big Bad. I know what she wants, I know some of what she's done or is doing to achieve it. Maybe I need to write a little bit more about her, figure out what she might see as a weakness to exploit or a danger to be eliminated. Maybe if I do that I will get a clearer picture of what comes next.

So far I've looked at this whole thing from Daisy's perspective. I've worked to put every obstacle I could in her path. Now, instead of thinking "what would be the worst thing that could happen to her now" I need to think "what's the best thing the opposition could do to reach their own goals right now."

Hmmm. Maybe that change in perspective will bounce me out of that rut.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Digging Out

I am not the worlds best housekeeper. My apartment is perpetually cluttered. There are books and papers and bills and knitting and yarn and piles of clean clothes and.... Basically everything you can imagine is scattered all over my living room. You can't even see the kitchen counters for the stacks of dirty dishes, and it's going to take some serious scrubbing to get all the burnt on gunk off the stove.

Usually I can step over, around, or through a mess and not even notice it's there. But this is beyond ignoring. So I'm taking advantage of this long weekend to try and shovel this place out. (I'm still not working, so a long weekend is really more psychological than anything. Except if I plan to do stuff at home I can avoid all the Memorial Day sales, and all those crowds. Plus, it's supposed to rain here all weekend, and I'm perfectly happy to avoid that, too.)

I'll be making a list shortly, but I'll spare you good people. I make my lists very detailed, so I feel like I'm really accomplishing something. (Very important when you generally speaking do nothing all day.) I've done a little bit already- washed a load of towels, cleaned the litter pan and took out the trash, and the dishwasher just finished. There will be many more loads of dishes and laundry, as well as much picking up and general organizing. I hope, by the end of the day on Monday, to be able to walk freely across the living room, not around stuff. I want all the laundry to be washed, folded, and put away. I want to be able to walk into the kitchen and cook anything I have the ingredients for, without checking to make sure the pan I need is clean. I want to be able to put my meal on the table without pushing things out of the way. And I want to be able to sit out the couch without moving stuff. (Except the cat. He sleeps where he will, and I can't be responsible for where he might choose to park it.) If I'm really, really on my game I might dust and even get out Troub's nemesis and vacuum the place.

The reality is the place will probably be just about as much a pit on Monday night as it is right now. But at least I have a goal. Even small changes will make my life easier and will make me happy. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shards of Miles

Recently I picked up Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold as an audiobook from Audible. Shards is the first book in the Vorkosigan series and covers the meeting of Miles's parents, Aral and Cordelia.

One thing that constantly amazes me when I go back and read (or listen to- I have all the Vorkosigan series available through Audible) earlier books in the series is how it's all there. The seed of Miles's personality is clearly there in both Aral and Cordelia. Aral runs right over his superiors and Cordelia considers herself socially awkward. He's constantly plotting and she's constantly charging into tight spots. It even cracks me up when Cordelia signs off on radio transmissions "Naismith out," just like her son will in 20 years or so. I never recognized these things the first time around. I wasn't familiar enough with the series. After listening to the other books umpteen times I'm even recognizing the names of soldiers who eventually become trusted armsmen in later books. No one appears from no where in this series. Even though the backdrop for these stories is all of space, the military and political society of Barrayar is a very small community. At this point in the series we know these people. If we've never met this particular character before then we know their father or uncle or something. It's as familiar as if we'd grown up there ourselves.

When I'm reading later books in the series I often find myself agreeing with Cordelia and some of the other more enlightened women of Miles's acquaintance who feel it's ridiculous to go through the dangers of a body birth when there are uterine replicators available. Duh. Who wouldn't? Except, whoops! We don't have those yet, do we? Sometimes I forget these books are only fiction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Getting Lucky

The last couple of months have been extremely good reading time for me. Not only have some of my favorite authors come out with new books, but I've also discovered a couple of new favorite authors. I usually discover a new author that I really love about once, maaaaybe twice, a year. To have discovered two authors that I really love within the last 6 weeks or so is practically a miracle. Both authors write mystery series, and I've been scarfing them down as fast as humanly possible.

Some of the books I've particularly enjoyed recently are:

Bone Crossed- Patricia Briggs- This one wasn't as good as previous Mercy books, but still highly enjoyable.

What I Did For Love- Susan Elizabeth Phillips- I didn't particularly care for her last book, but this one was really good. SEP's characters are always flawed, sometimes seriously so, but by the end of the book you feel like they've grown as people and accepted each other, warts and all.

The Sharing Knife: Horizon- Lois McMaster Bujold- The only thing I didn't like about this book is that it neatly wrapped up a lot of loose ends for Fawn and Dag. This series was LMB's experiment in crossing the fantasy and romance genres. Now that the two main characters have found their happy ending, the series seems to be at an end. I hope she decides that she has more stories to tell in the world, because I really enjoy it. Of course, she could set a story in the local A&P, with a plot line consisting of what she needs to pick up for dinner tonight, and I'd still enjoy it.

Audrey, Wait!- Robin Benway- This one was just fun. If you want to analyse it, there was a lot of subtext- the American fascination with fame, our willingness to be famous for being famous, how fame messes with your head and your relationships. But mostly it was just a lot of fun. It's YA, so those of us 30-somethings who like teeny bopper TV and movies will totally enjoy it.

Graceling- Kristin Cashore- A fantasy with excellent world and character building. YA, more because of the ages of the protagonists rather than any simplicity in storyline. Some children are born with particular talents, or Graces. Those Graces can be just about anything. Those who have a Grace that is useful to the King become his to use in whatever way benefits him. Those with useless Graces are sent home to their families, where they become a burden because the general population fears them. A follow up book, which is actually a prequel, is scheduled for this fall, giving us more info about Graceling's baddie and where he may have come from. I've already got it on my wishlist for birthday/Christmas.

Endless Blue- Wen Spencer- Another really interesting world. It's a wild place, filled with shipwreck victims of different cultures and species, escaped bioengineered creatures, and land masses that float through the air. When Mikhail chooses to crash land in this place on purpose he has no idea what he'll find, if there's anything there to find, or if he'll ever be able to get out. The world building and set up was very good, but it felt like the author lost steam in the last quarter to third of the book. There were logical errors, and the whole thing just seemed to wrap up too quickly. The main characters all decided to return to the outside world for various reasons. But what made this story so interesting is that the sphere in which they were all trapped had developed a very Swiss Family Robinson society. Stuff would wash up, they'd rig what they had as best they could, and keep on going. The genetically engineered differences in the human population and the outright alien species encountered made for much more exciting reading than the bits of shipboard life we got to see before the crash. If Spencer decides to revisit this world, which I hope she does, I hope she focuses within the sphere and on trying to figure out where it came from and who created it. The politics of the outside world were of no interest to me at all.

Turn Coat- Jim Butcher- Another really good one from Jim Butcher. Some have complained that there wasn't enough forward movement in the overall story arc. I don't agree. One knowing spy is exposed, one unknowing spy is exposed (which cause fall out for Harry later on), bad things happen for Thomas (which I also expect to bleed into Harry's relationship with him in the next few books), an important Warden dies, and the Black Council finally begins to show themselves. I particularly enjoyed Ancient Mai's reaction when she realized that Harry has a Foo Dog. The Dresden Files are always a good read, and I fully expect them to continue to be so.

Impossible- Nancy Werlin- This one really blew my mind. Not because the story was particularly good, although I did like it. The premise is so out there, I can't believe that it hasn't been done before. I can't believe I didn't think of it myself! Are you familiar with the folk song "Scarborough Fair"? Simon and Garfunkel did a famous version of it in the 70's, but it's been around for a lot longer. If you listen carefully to the lyrics, it's a list of impossible tasks given to a lover. Another version of the song is called "The Elfin Knight". So what if the song is a riddle, handed down through a family as a way to teach the next generation what they must do to break an Elf's curse? The simplicity of the idea, and the fact that it was all there if you just bother to look for it, really just boggles me. Not that the author didn't make a few changes to tailor the song to the story she wanted to tell. But still. Makes you wonder what other stories I've been looking right past.

The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries by Julia Spencer-Fleming- I've read 5 out of the 6 books in this series in the last couple of weeks. The first two books were excellent. Books three and four weren't so great. The author was trying something different in these two, and while I respect her for experimenting, they didn't work for me. Book five was really good again, and book six is waiting for me at the library. The mysteries in these books are pretty good, but the very best part is the developing relationship between Clare and Russ. The author has moved the relationship forward in the last couple of chapters of each of the books, which hooks you and makes you want to read the next book to see what happens between them.

The Lady Julia Grey mysteries by Deanna Raybourn- I read all three of these books in less than a week. These are fabulous, and I can't recommend them enough. Again, it's not the mysteries themselves that hook you in with this series, it's the relationship between Julia and Brisbane. Raybourn will have a stand alone mystery and another Julia Grey coming out next year. I can't wait.

Friday, May 01, 2009


I've cracked! A tooth, that is. (The jury is still out on my mental state.) And how did I manage to crack a tooth? It happened last night while I was eating a hamburger. A hamburger! There wasn't even anything hard or weird in there that I bit down on. The tooth just split. I thought it was a filling that fell out, so I went to the dentist this morning to try to get it fixed. That would be so much simpler to fix. This is going to require a crown, which means two appointments- one to ground down the tooth and put on the temporary crown, and the second to put on the specially fitted permanent crown. If this one goes the way the last one did, I can expect to spend at least three hours in the dentist's chair in the next couple of weeks. Also, it costs $600. Ouch.

I could have started the process today, having my tooth ground down and the mold made so that the permanent crown will fit exactly right. But I just couldn't face it today. Plus, I needed to consider the financial situation. I have an appointment next Friday to get started. I'll just have to be careful and live on really soft food for the next week. It hurt when the tooth cracked, and it's been aching ever since. I don't want to find out how much more it would hurt for the tooth to split further. I really hope this isn't the beginning of even worse dental problems. I've heard that some people with Crohn's have problems with their teeth literally crumbling on them, and I really, really don't want that to happen.