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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Weaving the tangled skein.

This, for me is always the hardest part. I never have too much trouble creating characters, a world, the magic system, back stories, motivations and so forth. That seems to be rather easy for me. It’s always the plot that trips me up. Nothing small, oh no. And I’m not saying that I make all this stuff with no idea for a plot…okay, it happens on occasion, but I set those aside to work on more later. I have an idea for the plot it’s just really basic. I usually come up with a basic premise and a few major plot points…and then I tend to get stuck…

How do I go from having a really solid idea of what’s going to happen on the grand scale, to near paralysis on the details? It happens every time and it’s always frustrating. I’m not the best at plotting. I think it’s in how I think, I’m a big picture kind of girl. I see the forest, but the trees are a bit hard to distinguish.

What really makes me crazy is that I’m super annoying to watch movies with because I can almost always figure out where the plots going. I’m the one going “Oh! That’s why he wants that thing-a-ma-do” ten minutes before he uses the thing-a-ma-do. So, if I can see plot arches to easily, why can’t I create them?

I know why, I’m not good at holding a lot of things in my head at once. I don’t think I’ll ever be too good at getting more than two plots lines in the same story. Not without a whole lot of whiteboard and a dedicated assistant. I’m not that great at chess either, because I can only see a few moves at a time. And that thinking is part of what makes it hard. When you don’t think you’ll be good at something, you keep second guessing yourself. I’m totally guilty. Half the time I don’t trust my own plot point choices. Self confidence, or at least the wilingness to just give it a try, will do a lot toward perfecting ones art. It’s something I’ll have to to work on, and I’m up for the challenge, but it’s still annoying. ^_^

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Sound that Moves

I’ve been thinking a lot about music today. I always do when I’m writing. I have a lot of trouble writing if I don’t have the right music to go with it. Music helps me focus. When I was in high school, my mother would scoff at these assertions, and I didn’t really know how to describe it to her. I do now. Without music, my mind wanders.

I’m not the best at focusing intently on a single thing for long periods of time. For 5 min to a half hour, sure. More than that? My brain melts and starts dripping out of my ears. My mind NEEDS more than one thing to think about at a time, or I start to go a little nuts. That’s why I am so very picky about the MP3 players I have. (I stumbled onto the best one without realizing it and I will never give it up! GRRRRR)

I know I’m not the only one and I find it interesting to see what other people listen to. Or how they pick the music. That’s sometimes hard for me. A) Because I have too many songs, some I’ve forgotten I have and B) because I’m always looking for a certain feeling. I have gone so far as to put a song on reply until I finish a scene to keep the feeling of the scene in my mind, in my body.

So here are a few of my favorites. I happen to love Battlestar Galactica, the new remake, not the original, but even if you didn’t like it much, the music was amazing. I have all the soundtracks and there is every feeling you could want in that mix. I have few favorite though that I know by name. The Shape of Things to Come from Season one is probably the one I love the most. It always gives me chills when I listen to it. It’s gentle, sweet and yet insistent, pressing, expectant, all at the same time. When I first heard it on the show I was entranced by the sound of it. I wish the track were longer. Passacaglia, also from Season one has a similar feel to it as The Shape, but it’s five minutes instead of three and has a more consistent feel to it. The violins are just gorgeous. It’s a fairly simple piece, but I think that’s what makes it so lovely. And I can’t mention the music of this series without mentioning Gaeta’s Lament from Season Four. It’s just haunting, the minor tones unsettling and yet beautiful. It’s great for that melancholy feel, and I now sing it for hours after hearing it.

Yeah, I like Anime. I’m eclectic in my tastes, so sue me. You should see my music library, you’d really scratch your head. Anyway, this is a great soundtrack for a more Sci-Fi feel and also delivers a wide range of emotion, but with an electronic age feel to it. The opening songs are amazing. Who am I kidding, anything Kanno Yoko does is amazing. She’s done so many soundtracks for so many anime and they all have their own flare, their own feel but I almost always know when Kanno is doing the music.

Final Fantasy Piano Collection is another one I listen to a lot while writing. And there are a whole plethora of songs that I can’t begin to name. They are part of the lifeblood of my writing. Without them there to keep me focused, to keep me feeling a scene, I don’t think I could write. I’m an artistic person and I’ve always said that I’d rather be blind, than deaf. Silence would be torture to me. Darkness holds only possibilities for my imagination. Silence holds death. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. Or maybe just honest.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Just to be Random

 

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I think my brain is full…

Or maybe I’ve got too much on my mind. I’ve had this though before, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I love to read, and with my discovery of well read audio books, I can do a lot of reading again. Yeah, it’s not the same is reading it myself, but it makes up for it in the amount of housework I can do while still enjoying a good book. Try folding the laundry while holding a book, it’s not easy. Although I did perfect the ability to change classes while still reading in high school. I have no idea how I did it, and I’m not going to dwell on it too hard.

So, I spend a lot of my day with ear-buds stuffed in my head while I do the dishes, clean out the fridge, walk the dog, sweep the floors, you get the idea. But I don’t do a lot of thinking. Audio books have taken the place of music for me, and though, it’s great to read, I have the same problem with the audio book, that I had with the read book. I can’t put it down/turn it off! It took me at least 10 minutes of fusing around to get myself to take them out, so I could at least starting thinking about writing today.

I can’t really think with the audio book going either. I have to turn it off to try to come up with a grocery list or jot down my to-do list for the day. I used to come up with great scenes while doing manual tasks, and now that thinking time is crowded out by audio book listening. I left the house, went to the store and filled up my grocery cart only to get though the checkout line and realize I’d forgotten to grab my money on the way out the door. And you guessed it, I was listening to a book. Not only as I prepared to go, but as I shopped to. (It does cut down on the spur of the moment purchases. Unless I’m hungry…) It was so embarrassing to tell the lady at the check out that I had no money. Not even a license. I had to drive home, get my money and drive back.

Hello, my name is Stila and I’m addicted to audio books… Do they have an ‘audio books anonymous’ group I can join? Will people get ABA and ABBA mixed up?

I’m too used to having something to listen to, and it’s cluttering my brain up with extraneous material. I need to cut back on the buds, but the withdrawal is going to be phenomenal.

 
 

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This is bliss

There is nothing like a wood stove when there’s a blizzard
outside. I kind of feel guilty though, sitting on my nice warm love
sac, in front of a nice warm fire, with a cup of hot chocolate, my
iPad and a pad of paper while I hear my neighbor’s snow blower
going. But only kinda. I went outside long enough to break a path
around the back yard so the dog could do his business. He’s a big
dog, but even he can’t swim though this. It’s still coming down and
I live on a bit of hill, so it’s windy up here. There’s no point in
shoveling. My husband did some this morning, and you can’t tell, so
we’ll wait until tomorrow, when it stops. At least this set up is
conducive to getting writing work done. ^_^

 
 

The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 4, Urban Fantasy vs Contemporary Fantasy

And you thought I was done at 3! Sadly no.

So here we come to an funny little side note to the debate, but one which is really the heart of the debate in essence. I don’t like the term Contemporary Fantasy. I don’t like the idea of even having a “present tense” genre. And I am being subjective, which is annoyingly unobjective I know, but hear me out. When is something no longer considered contemporary and what is it then? Is something written in the 60’s considered contemporary? Probably, but is it really? No, it isn’t, at least not to me. Technology is changing to fast to have long periods of time that are essentially the same with only minor changes in daily living. Yes, compare to the 1700’s, the 60’s are contemporary, but not compared to today. Heck, the 80’s can barely be considered contemporary. So what are fiction novels written in the 60’s called? Hippie lit? What would we call a book written about the world of Bioshock? It’s in an Urban setting so it’s sort of Urban Fantasy, sort of Horror, but not contemporary. Steam Punk would fit it to a point.

See my point? It’s all subjective to one extent or another on some level. And to be fair, Urban Fantasy is really a sub genre of Contemporary Fantasy…sometimes. And that’s why I don’t like it. As far as I’m concerned, if it happens in basically our world, past the point of industrialization, but has fantasy elements, then it’s Urban Fantasy. I know that’s not the strict definition of the term, but I think it can stretch to accommodate. Mercedes Lackey’s SERRAted Edge series is Urban Fantasy to me, even though half of it happens well outside cities and it should be rightly called Contemporary Fantasy. My current WIP isn’t really a UF, it’s a CF, since most of it happens outside of a city. But I consider it a UF anyway. It has those elements that I consider UF. So does that make Urban Fantasy set in Victorian England something else by my definition? Nope, just add a modifier and you get the very apt Historical Urban Fantasy.

There are many who already consider the two to be basically the same thing, and I’m okay with that, because the plot that drives them both is the fantasy elements of that world. That isn’t true with Paranormal Romance. (And for the record, I don’t like the term Contemporary Romance either.) There are even a lot of PR books that are labeled CF even though the Romance novel is clearly not a Fantasy Novel.

So I guess it comes down to what’s more important. I’d rather Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy be confused and interchanged than either be confused with Romance. Not because I have a problem with Romance. I freely admit that I read it so that’s not the point. I would be just as upset if Mystery were being confused with Urban Fantasy, and it happens. A lot. It’s the principle of the thing. There are fruits that are considered vegetables because of their lack of sweetness, such as the tomato and avocado. But they are still fruits. Why? Because sweetness isn’t what makes it a fruit, the hardness of the seed is. This is a set way of categorizing edible plants so scientists can speak the same language and understand each other. We need to have some understanding of how to group things so we can better understand our world and each other. It all really comes down to communication. We have enough trouble with men and women understanding each other, and people from different countries understanding each other, we don’t need to add to the confusion. Not when there is a system in place already to deal with this very issue.

Maybe that’s what annoys me the most about this whole thing. We aren’t using that system and it’s creating a problem already. We aren’t using the time spent arguing and discussing this to do anything new. It’s a waste of time in the end. There is a system in place, so let’s use it and stop wasting time with miscategorizing things. We could be using that time to find new names for the next new kind of book to come out.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 3

Finally, on to part 3. The publishers. Now, I’m not going to beat the publishers to death on this one, because they are doing the best they can to sell their products. They are businesses, they do their jobs for the same reason we all do, to get enough money to make a decent living or more if they want to put in the time and effort to get more. I’m not one to beat on ‘evil corporations’.

However, I find the drive to earn money, to cash in on the next big thing rewards, or at least doesn’t curtail confusion and ignorance on the part of the consumer. It happens with words all the time. We lose the rightful meaning to words more because of gross ignorance than to a true shift in language. I feel the same way about this issue. I think a lot of people just don’t understand what defines a genre and the publishers cater to that lack of understanding by lumping things into ill fitting categories for fear of losing money, instead of labeling books correctly and thus educating people on what truly goes where.

I know, educating people isn’t the job of the publishers. But, in the long run, it is of more benefit than continuing to allow the degradation of the category system. Especially in this age of internet search engines, when knowing what to search for is paramount if you want to find what you are looking for. If genres aren’t kept well defined, we risk making it harder for the consumer to find what they are looking for, which will result in people buying fewer books.

Now we add to that, the frightening proliferation of the ‘butt cover‘ and/or tramp stamp. These are becoming rampant and they do two things. They sexualize the female heroine, which I do not understand, since most of the readers are women, and they make the genre look frankly trashy. If you compare these covers with other fantasy book covers, you’ll find that, though there are a few fantasy covers with buxom ladies in impractical gear, there aren’t too many. However, compare the UF covers to that of the PR covers. In fact, here’s a video that shows both UF and PR covers in a parade of butt covers. And I’m not even close to the first one to notice this. It seems like the only way to show that a chick is tough is to make her overtly sexual to the point of nearly slutty and cover her in tattoos, even if she doesn’t have any. Let’s look at these covers of the Mercedes Thompson books by Patricia Briggs. They aren’t all butt covers, but look at how she’s dressed in every one. Mercy doesn’t dress like this and and she has a tattoo of a coyote paw below her navel and two celtic knots on her upper arms. She doesn’t have sleeves, she has an athletic build, not breast implants. So what’s the point of making her look slutty? Does it sell better? Why? Because if they are trying to make it look like Mercy is a girl who gets lots of fun on in the sac, then they are disappointing readers who want that.

Now lets look at The Dresden Files. Now here we have Urban Fantasy with a male hero and these look just like Harry Dresden, with the exception that he doesn’t wear a hat. Other than that, he carries a staff, wears boots and a long black duster and a pentacle amulet. So why isn’t one of the many lovely ladies of the Dresden Files draping the front in sex appeal? Wouldn’t that sell to the male audience who reads these books? Why not have him shirtless and manly looking to get the female readers interested?

This is the other thing I blame the publishers for. The covers they give female written books that are about female characters are a joke nine times out of ten. And we wonder why UF is lumped in with PR and why it’s starting to get a trashy rep. I’d really like to know if we the readers buy these books because of the covers or despite of them. I know I buy them despite the covers, usually while rolling my eyes at the silliness. This is the one thing I agree with Saintcrow about. Most female written and female hero-ed fiction seems to be poo-pooed. I don’t really care that it isn’t seen at real ‘literature’ since none of the Sci-fi and Fantasy is seen as real ‘literature’ and we are all glad of it. But I would like some of what we women like to read and like to write given some level of respect.

Part 4

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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The Great Urban Fantasy Debate Part 2

Continuing where I left off, my thoughts on Lilith Saintcrow’s post. Her first words are a question, what is Urban Fantasy. Not a bad start, but right off we have this as her answer. “That’s simple, you might say. Chicks kicking ass. Well, leather-clad chicks kicking ass. Leather-clad chicks kicking ass in an urban environment where some form of “magic” is part of the world. There. That’s about it.” I can not begin to state how disappointing this is, coming from a published author. Obviously, this is not at all the definition of UF, not by a long shot.

It is interesting to note that “chicks kicking ass” does seem to fit with the majority of the UF out there. And there are some truths to the points she brings up, but I think she focuses a little too much on what are her pet issues. She mentions in passing male authors of the genre, but only the once, even as she promises to get back to them in due course. I’m going to digress for a bit here and note something I found both interesting and alarming. In the second part of this blog by Carrie Vaughn, Vaughn laments the lack of strong female characters, other than the main character. It’s a pet peeve of hers in UF, and one I myself share. And reading Saintcrow’s article, you’d think the majority of strongly caste female in UF would be from female authors. Not so much. Of the UF I have read, Jim Butcher’s Dresden files has far and away, the most strong female characters of any UF I’ve read. In fact, pretty much every female in Harry’s world is a strong woman with the very few weak ones being notable for that trait. Even one of the females that looked weak turned out to be strong. I can name off the top of my head 13 strong female characters from the Dresden files. (I just now counted them on my fingers as I thought about it for a whole 15 seconds.) I can not think of another UF with even 5 female characters that pop out to my like that. So at least Jim Butcher has no problem with strong women. If anything, he has more respect and love for women than most of us have for ourselves.

Saintcrow goes on to say “What truly defines UF, and why the genre has exploded recently, is the moral and ethical ambiguity of its protagonists.” Once again, I think this a flawed idea. I can think of several High Fantasy and Sci-Fi Protags that fit this bill quite well. In fact a lot of them do. I don’t think this has anything at all to do with it and is not at all a new thing. Her point that the gender for this has changed may have some merit, but then why are the Dresden files and the Nightside books so well loved? From what Saintcrow is saying, this is old hat and shouldn’t be new or interesting.

At this point the article does cover some interesting ground on the nature of the relationship between women, power and violence. But I’m not sure what that has to do with UF in particular. I think it’s coming into a lot of genres, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and most notably, Mystery. Nora Roberts under the pen name J.D. Robb has birthed Eve Dallas, one of the foremost ass kicking women in fiction with over 30 stories dedicated to Eve’s foot kicking said ass. It’s not UF, it’s not romance, so how does that fit with the idea that UF is about this issue? It doesn’t and it isn’t. That is not what defines the genre.

I think there is still some merit to the argument that women and female fiction is second class, both in the reading and publishing world. And this is were we get to the meat of my issue with this whole debate, which I touched on in the first part. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance should not be so closely tied. I don’t like that fact that it is and it concerns me that it is looked as almost the same thing.

Why? How did this happen? Why would Twilight ever be even remotely considered UF? And yes, I’ve seen it put in that bracket. Twilight is barely Paranormal Romance, it’s Young Adult PR if anything. It doesn’t take place in a city, it’s primary plot focus is on romantic relationships. The age of the characters involved put it firmly in the YA category. So how did it ever end up being lumped in with UF? Here’s were Saintcrow and I will agree. It’s not that PR is being lumped in with UF, it’s that UF is being lumped in with PR…if it has Vampires in it and is written by a women. I hate to say it, because it just makes me look like a frothing feminist fanatic, but the publishing world in many ways looks on women readers as bored house wives. Think about it. Titanic anyone? Why did it do so well? Because there was a certain set of women and teen girls who went and saw the movie over and over again in the theater. That alone wouldn’t be so bad, look at Star Wars. (the original trilogy, not the new crap which has no business being in the mythos whatsoever) But here’s what makes it different? It was a good story! If Titanic had been a good story, it wouldn’t be seen as silly as much as it is, but it’s not a good story. Women, whom men do and will always see as being silly and emotional, get caught up in the love story and men don’t get it. What makes it worse, is that there are women out there who think Titanic is bad and roll our eyes at the ones who see it over and over again. It’s a tangled problem.

It also doesn’t help that the market is being flooded with books by authors who themselves don’t understand the difference between UF and PR or don’t care because let’s face it, it’s what’s new and hot. Which brings me to the third big culprit in this debate that should not be. But another time. This one has grown too long as it is.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in All About Writing

 

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