Thursday, December 19, 2013

Proof 2

The proof copy of The Quantum of the Past: A Fantasy arrived in the mail yesterday. I included a picture below, next to an old cell phone for size comparison.




It's a big book, similar to George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons (which is a thick book). They are almost the same thickness.

This is problematic because my novel only has a third of the total page count of A Dance with Dragons! My guess is that Createspace uses paper that is thicker than what they used for Martin's book.

The cover art is darker than the image I sent in--although this is a good thing, since it puts more emphasis on the electrified sword. What bummed me out is that there are formatting errors inside so I have to comb through the physical book, page by page, note errors and then fix them in the file. After that, I get another proof. They're cheap from Createspace, so this is not an issue.

I may also add a photo of myself inside. And redo some of the other things that bugged me, the ones I was willing to put up with. All in all, it will cost more to sell, but I'm not concerned about that at this point. I just need it to look professional (and not like the covers for 90% of the stuff on Createspace).

I liked how the art turned out so much that I asked Ravven to do the cover for Ascension.





LC

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oh, my ibooks!

A while back I said that I got most of my books through the ibookstore because Apple went to some lengths to give an analog feel to their digital books. But the iOS7 update makes them look like files in my PC. I hate the update overall and the cotton-candy look it gives to everything.

Ughhhhhh!!!!!

Meanwhile, the Kindle app has gone to great lengths to catch up to the old ibookstore library app. So, lately I've been buying books on the Kindle app. What a drag.

And while I mull over that...

***

December is so far more rewarding than November. It's hard to believe that the year ends in a few weeks, especially since I didn't finish what I wanted to finish this year.

I captured all of this sense of failure in a short story, "Moshing." I put it up in the Chasing the Coyote section for all read.

It is the last story I'm ever going to workshop. That's not because I don't appreciate the workshop experience, but because my time in school is over. Saying that makes me feel like a good old lad. The truth is that I was in school for reasons that I don't think too many people will understand.

In the old days, people went to school to become educated. These days, people go to school to get a degree. It honestly doesn't matter if you learned anything at all so long as you have that piece of paper. This isn't so much the case in professions like the medical field (you still have to go to med school and do time in a hospital setting before you're considered a doctor).

But for professions like writing, that piece of paper is a joke! Pick the most admired school of Creative Writing and you will have a pool of graduates falling into a hierarchy: A students; B students; C students. It is assumed that those with excellent grades are the ones who learned the most. What does that mean for writing though?

The romantic in me wants to believe that the most dedicated writers worked harder to earn those A's. But this is not the case. An "A" just says you met certain class and degree requirements. It says nothing about the quality of your stories. This is true for all institutions of higher learning, from the lowest to the greatest.

And so, the real purpose for school (if you're a writer or artist) is to help you meet and interact with others like yourself. It's those wonderful experiences in workshops and readings that are worth the price of the degree.

I will miss those days.


LC





Sunday, December 1, 2013

Divergent, a review...

I had to wait a while before I could write this review. The feelings I had while reading it were so strong that I wanted to understand them. They weren't good feelings and I wondered if maybe it was jealousy. After all, every writer is prone to feelings of inadequacy.

And to be honest, I did approach Divergent, by Veronica Roth, well aware (and weary of) all the hype surrounding it. It isn't the same level of hype as that involved with The Hunger Games, but it was still there (and will be there more now that there is a movie coming out about this novel).

Of course, those who have loved Divergent compare it to The Hunger Games. And there are many, many who do love it--look at the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. But I didn't love it.

It was so bad I didn't finish it. I stopped about a fourth of the way into it and could take no more. Curious to see if the rest of the novel was as bad, I skipped ahead and, yup, confirmed it. Then I read a summary of the remaining plot online and, yup, confirmed it again. This novel is not for me.

***

Overview:

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopian



Premise: In the future, the citizens of Chicago create a society divided by Factions (Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite) whose members embrace these traits while rejecting those of other factions. Beatrice Prior, 16 years old, must learn to survive in her new Faction, Dauntless, while enduring the pain of leaving her parents (who are members of the Abnegation faction).


What didn't work for me:

Oh, where to start...

1) The Premise: I didn't buy the premise. The people of Chicago decided that certain personality traits in humans were responsible for all the problems of the world. They therefore created factions that held firm onto one virtue that eradicated one of the undesirable ones. When I saw that, I was unsure as to why there were factions. I mean, if you identified certain traits that are negative and you want to create a society that does away with them, wouldn't you want your entire society to get rid of all of them? Aren't the Dauntless prone to selfishness? Aren't the Amity members going to be less daring, bold, and just plain old less physically fit than the Dauntless? The other factions could potentially suffer from one of the negative traits too. It just seemed like the faction system just chases around its own tail. And why didn't Greed make it onto that list of characteristics? Greed is one of the top reasons for wars, crime, etc. Or Envy? No? Okay.

Also, the whole premise had the feel of a philosophical thought experiment. You know, if you were strongly against capital punishment and a comet was doomed to crash into the earth and the only way to save humanity was for you to allow capital punishment to exist, would you allow it to? Or would you doom humanity? Yeah. Like that. Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a famous one, and also John Rawls' Theory of Justice. These are scenarios that assume that humanity can be taken out of the world and put into specially created circumstances--in order to think about some aspect of it.

The problem with these scenarios is that humanity cannot be removed from the world. It just can't. You cannot take the human race out of the world. Nope. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. So, building a fictional story around such stiff set of circumstances is difficult to swallow because it demands that you consider a world that can only exist as a thought experiment.


2) World-building: Okay, so the premise didn't work. That doesn't mean there are no writer tricks to make it work. This is a Science Fiction novel so I expected some Science Fiction to come to the rescue. For example, The Giver has a very similar premise, but the author wisely adds genetic engineering as a way to control undesired traits. In 1984, the author has the fear of Big Brother curve undesirable behavior (and constant surveillance). In The Hunger Games, the constant threat of a very aggressive and technologically advanced dictatorship keeps the population in check.

No such reasoning exists in Divergent. There is advanced technology in the form of simulation tests, etc. but none of this explains why humans broke off into factions that allow only members who display certain personality traits.

Another problem with the world-building is the idea of the Divergent. These are people who show aptitude towards more than one faction. This is a rare condition that is undesired, so when the protagonist is revealed to be one, it creates tension. Without genetic engineering, the idea doesn't make sense. It seems to me that it would be more rare to have someone who displays aptitude towards only one faction.

Also, if you built a society like this with the intent to keep the peace, why is there such animosity for the teens who switch over to other factions? Tris and her brother are seen as traitors, as are others who switch factions. And, the families of the kids who leave are ostracized in their communities. Wow. Why? That didn't make sense to me. Wouldn't you encourage your community members to seek out the best place for them?

This was so contradictory to the whole premise of the society that I couldn't get around it. The animosity seems like a recipe for war.


3) Military: So, the Dauntless are supposed to be the city's defenders against its enemies, within and without. Now, these are very selective individuals who want the cream of the crop (the top ten make it, the rest become Factionless or dead, whichever comes first). Throughout the selection training, both happen to a number of recruits and the rest struggle to stay on the top ten. The end result is a very lean and mean group of well-trained soldiers-like thrill seekers.

The problem with what I described is that it only makes sense to civilians. No military leader would ever agree to such a process because at the end of it what you will have left is a very TINY army. Today's armed forces are made up of more than just the elite; most of their bulk is regular folks who you train to become decent soldiers.

This part of the novel just didn't make sense at all to me. It lacks any military commonsense. It's like looking at your chessboard and getting rid of those pawns because they don't really do as much as the knights, castles or queen.


What worked for me:

I didn't finish the book so I can't really add comment on this. The main character's voice may have developed into more, but I won't know because I'm avoiding this book and its sequels.

Overall:

One of my co-workers stared at me viciously as I wrote this review. He liked the book, as did some of my other co-workers. It makes me giggle a little.

The number of positive reviews of Divergent makes me think there is something for others to enjoy. I'm going to scratch my head while I try to figure out what happened. Maybe it's because I just binged on a number of books? Maybe because this was compared to The Hunger Games and it just isn't in par with it?

I don't know. I feel bad I actually bought the book instead of checking it out from the library I work at. I can't even give it to someone who does because it's a Kindle book.

:-(


LC

Friday, November 29, 2013

The return of The Quantum of the Past...

Over the past few months I've become aware of how horrible I am at completing my monthly goals. I won't even include my November goals here just because I know they didn't get done. I binged this past month on reading. But at least I got some work done.

Consider that I've almost finished the full novel version of The Quantum of the Past: A Fantasy. It's almost done. Almost is the operative word there.

Here is what the artwork for the full novel will look like:



Thanks Ravven for the artwork!

I'm still taking shots at my Wizards. And to be sure, I had a glorious burst of creativity aimed at Ascension.

With two jobs on the side, I have to make sure to put one foot in front of the other as I move. It has been a long time since I've felt a sense of well-being like this.

So, I've found three really good artists to work with. And with the projects I will finish next year I'll have a body of work available. I think it's time to put money aside for advertising.

***
For December, my goals are: None; nathan; nada. No goals. I always get too ambitious. I'll likely finish the Wizard story I'm working on now and for sure get the Quantum book proof done. But who knows?



LC


PS: I'm desperately trying to finish Divergent. But I'm having a difficult time swallowing the basic premise of the book! I will review it since it reminds me so much of Pure.







Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Three jobs...

After much, much work, I finally cemented the basic plot of Ascension. Hooray!

Yes, I have been nibbling at that for a while now, but only now do I have a grasp on the plot. With a mystery, it's difficult to work out a plot that makes sense. You are basically creating a crime that ordinary detectives were unable to solve for whatever reasons. Those "reasons" have to be plausible. I think I laughed at the first book in the Kinsey Millhone series because its plot devices relied too much on luck (good luck is the same as bad luck).

After you create this crime that ordinary detectives weren't able to solve, then you have to lay out mistakes, believable mistakes. The assumption is that crimes are not committed perfectly, not even supernatural crimes. Therefore, there will be mistakes along the way. And these mistakes are one form of clues.

Along with mistakes, there are the deductions that the clever detective has to make with the information he/she is initially given. The best type of deductions are the ones that are initially wrong. Along the way, the detective creates an impression of the crime, which becomes refined as the tale progresses. This is, for me at least, the lure of reading and writing in this genre. And, for me again, the best types of deductions are the ones that seem the most correct, but end up the furthest from truth. Again, these deductions open the way for more clues, more information to feed the detective's mind.

That machine grinds the information and makes further deductions. The initial picture of the crime seems foolish now, things become more complex. Too simple mysteries are unsatisfying. If I can figure out who is responsible and why from the get-go, then it seems to destroy something in the novel. The tension in a mystery novel is between the detective and the reader, where the detective is either faster or slower than the reader at interpreting the information (a fiction orchestrated by the writer).

A well-executed mystery story provides a satisfying resolution.

And of course, all of the things I've mentioned do not complete the novel. A timeline is needed (unless you can keep track of events in your head really well). That timeline becomes more refined until finally, the timeline is the novel.

This isn't it though. What mystery novel would be complete without a double-cross or two? Without adding challenges to the detective (because he/she cannot be allowed to solve that crime with ease, not ever, no way).

***
So, my binging is done. I've read what I needed to read and can produce again. Yes, I started my second job this week. It's very exciting; I get to watch people give each other emotional goodbyes before they board their flights.

With the job I have at the library, the job at LAX will give me a new dimension of stimuli. I am uniquely placed to be able to observe human beings at their most emotional. Truly, it is a treat to write these days.

And the tally is three jobs: 1) Writing; 2) Library; 3) LAX.

***
Who needs a staff?




Art by Celairen



LC


Monday, November 11, 2013

M. Butterfly Effect

I've spent most of my time reading lately. Sometimes, I binge on books to help me drown the large number of stories in my head; I wish they would just stop coming, but my imagination is such that ideas and scenarios play out continuously, brought about by the smallest stimuli.

It is not as bad as it sounds. The binging helps me get my ideas together about the fiction I'm writing. Also, this summer I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked. Reading short works like The Great Gatsby will help me get an appetite for longer works, like The Grapes of Wrath.

Plays are also short and thanks to the American Drama class I'm taking, I've been reading many plays. Before this season, I never read much contemporary drama. That was a mistake. I found this out recently.

M. Butterfly by D. Hwang is the kind of story that lets you see what can be done with the symbols we call language. It was like a fresh onion: Layer after layer of meaning; the deeper you peel away at those layers, the more you want to cry.

It helped me formulate a question that had been formless in my mind until after I finished reading that play: Why do we think we are either male or female if we come from males and females (together)?

Of course, you will say it is because of your penis and vagina. But if I were to suggest that our genitals are what make us male or female, then I think I would be missing something. And, you might say, angrily too I bet, that we are not animals--only wild beasts depend on their genitalia to define them.

What do cultures usually preach? There is more to being a man than just having male genitalia. We drive that message across in America and abroad; that is why there are rituals denoting manhood. It is never enough that we have the right equipment, so to speak. Certain behavior is expected. It is the same for women.

Other words come into the conversation, like masculinity and femininity. There is more involved. In the past, the female gender has been relegated to domestic duties, while the male gender has been out using their brawn and mind to carry on society, suspiciously keeping the mind of the female gender in the domestic sphere.

I think it was Virginia Woolf who first helped form these thoughts in my head, that what we call gender is an illusion. She rightly noted (as have many other female writers) that the female gender, the illusion, is the result of keeping them in the domestic sphere--a brash form of conditioning.

Unlike other female writers, however, Virginia Woolf considers the consequences of removing the conditioning. In, A Room of One's Own, she considers that the conditioning has given women certain characteristics--some of which she doesn't females ought to be rid of. What is the end, then? Androgyny. She weighs the options.

Hwang considers the male illusion in M. Butterfly. I want to keep going, but I won't spoil that for you, and I think I have rambled on enough for a Veteran's Day post.




LC

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October revisited

And so, it's time to tally up my October goals. Here they are:

My goals for October include: 1) Finishing three more Wizard stories; 2) Writing 10,000 words of Ascension; 3) Write two short stories for a workshop; 4) Prepare Quantum of the Past for Createspace.
It was a very ambitious set of goals. I didn't do half as well as I wanted to.

I actually only got done one Wizard story, 0 words on Ascension, and did not prepare Quantum for Createspace. At least I finished the two short stories for the workshop.

The lesson is not to be too ambitious. There is plenty of time to do things at a slooooooooooooooooooow pace. Next year is a big drafting year, so I would like to have at least The Wizards done.

***
November will be interesting. I start a second job, hopefully, while finishing up the semester at school. Just writing that out makes the endeavor seem crowded, busy. But it is what I have to do to keep my books looking a certain way. I mean, I could start doing the art for my books again, but that didn't work out so well. And good artwork costs money. Publishing too has costs. Next year I will add advertising costs, etc.

It's more of a hobby at this point (an expensive one). But there are bigger goals and bigger plots I have to follow. At least next year school will be a thing of the past, unless I wish to pursue a different degree plan. But I'm a little burned out from school.

More on next year's goals in two months.

These are my goals for November:

  1. Finish at least two Wizard stories.
  2. Prepare Quantum for Createspace.
  3. Prepare Quantum ebook.

That is far more conservative than last month's goals.

***

And now, here is more work by Celairen.








LC

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MT volume 3

After a flurry of things to do last week, I managed to squeeze out the third volume of The Quantum of the Past. I feel great now that it's over.

I remember when I said last year that I would have it out by November 30th! It has been a year since that. But that time doesn't compare to how long I have worked on the story of Miles Trevor.

I think it has been a little more than ten years since I created Miles Trevor. Ten years. A decade. I was about to leave the army. I finished a draft of another novel with him a year later (the first of several novelizations of his life). How ironic then, that this is just the start of his story.

The process of publishing the novel in parts taught me some valuable lessons.

1) Serial publication of novels is an old strategy that magazines used (still use?). Charles Dickens serialized novels that were very popular, like Oliver Twist.

In this age it is a way to give the reader more than just 15% (what ebook dealers give as a sample). It is cheaper too; they can purchase each volume for under $2.00.

2) Releasing a novel in volumes will not work for all novels. I don't see me releasing Ascension that way. There has to be natural breaks in the narrative to do it.

3) The careful author must be able to control the material. It is very easy to lose control. Consider that one volume could read differently than another. For a novel like Quantum, this is not a problem. But for linear novels, this may mean a vital flaw that produces a disjointed text that has varying tones and pace.

4) However, looking at each volume separately allowed me to truly focus on them. I said before that I am only human. Looking at about five hundred pages of fiction all at once is tiring, especially the way I look at it. If I had done the whole novel at once, the result might have been lower quality in the third section.

***

And so, with The Quantum of the Past complete, I can move on to other projects. I am currently trying to finish out the second short story for the workshop I'm in. I need it done by Monday. Talk about a tight schedule!

After Monday, it's back to The Wizard of Oxnard. And yes, Ascension.



LC

Saturday, October 12, 2013

On the road...

I moved again a few days ago, making it the third time this year. Let me tell you, there is a reason there are professional movers. A kitchen stove and a refrigerator are heavy, and stairs suck. A major appliance fell on me so I haven't been in the mood to do anything with my hands. My limbs are all okay, just a few minor scratches and bruises, but I am sore as hell. Luckily, I had all the Quantum volume 3 stuff for kindle and nook ready to go.

I will load the files either later on today or tomorrow and double check the ebooks, so that they are on sale by Tuesday or Wednesday at latest.

The hiccup with moving was just part of my time. I also wrote one of the two short stories I'm supposed to write for my workshop. It's up in the Chasing the Coyote page. I have to finish another by the 21st of this month.

As for The Wizards, with Quantum subdued, I will have all of two weeks to work on one. The Wizard of Oxnard is all set up, I just have to write it.

***

Last week, I got the artwork for the novel version of The Quantum of the Past: A Fantasy. That marks the fourth artist I've had the pleasure of working with. Each is unique in their own way. That gives me options. I'll show off the artwork in due time. :-)

It's a very unique experience to work with them and trying to pass a vision you have in your head. I'm glad I decided to go with artists instead of doing it myself. That fiasco made me waste a lot of time.

***

So, that's a photo of the panel discussion we had at PVLD a couple of weeks ago. We had a good talk about plotting mysteries and the constraints of genre expectations. These were good folks and I hope I see more of them in the future.





LC

Monday, September 30, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Local Author Fair

And so, this weekend the Palos Verdes Library District will hold two events where authors will speak about their respective works. On Saturday, author Edward Humes will visit us and speak about his book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash.

And on Sunday, we will host a number of local authors to give them a chance to read their work, answer questions as part of panels, and sign their books. You can read all about it here.

I will be there as a moderator for one of our panels: The Thrillers and Killers panel. Its goal is to allow Mystery and Thriller novel writers a chance to answer questions about writing in this particular genre, and also about the plotting process--an element of fiction that is all-important in this genre.

I can tell you that I'm nervous and excited! There is something special about meeting the author of a novel you've read. I get to meet four at the same time and ask them questions about their work. I hope that as you read this, you will decide join us.

The event runs from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Attendance is free.

Here are the authors I will meet this Sunday, along with cover art for their latest novel.




Alone and grieving over his son, Detective Nicholas Faraday's nightmare is only beginning. When he's called to investigate a death at a country estate, a second victim collapses before his eyes and the swanky residents stop at nothing to resist the investigation. Only one person helps--Annabelle Dancer, who's immediately drawn to him. In what quickly becomes the most baffling case of his career, Nicholas struggles to fit together claims of "ghosts," an unshakable trance at a seance and "brain invasions." Are these hallucinations or tricks? Evidence points more and more to the unimaginable. As the killer masters a horrifying technique, Nicholas loses ground. In a frantic race to protect Annabelle and solve the crime before the killer strikes again, he's forced to rethink not only the case, but his grasp of reality itself. When Annabelle's mind becomes the battleground for the killer's showdown, she finds a key piece of the solution. This spurs Nicholas to set a trap with himself as bait. As the killer comes for him, he learns the shocking truth. How can he save Annabelle and defeat a killer who holds all the advantages?





Perhaps crime doesn’t pay. But doing nothing doesn’t either. Still, does any degree of abuse or mistreatment warrant fratricide—killing one’s own brother? Or, more precisely, half-brother? And when does old fashioned greed take over and disguise itself as simple ambition or self-preservation? Find out. Discover how the rock and roll bastard from Detroit, Nic Reilly, fights his way to the top of the record business and then loses everything, including himself—with most of it taking place during the implosion years of the file-sharing revolution as the music industry melts to the ground.





Captain Josie Corsino has selected Kyle Richards, a trusted and talented sergeant, to supervise a burglary task force in Hollywood Division. While working that special detail, Richards is involved in a fatal shooting. He's reluctant to be candid about his relationship with the man he killed and that leads not only to uncovering his mysterious past but exposing Josie's division to notoriety and a fiery assault.





A washed up trophy-wife, a recklessly ambitious cop, and one very ticked off Russian Mobster. Professional blackmailer John Sharp, AKA One Eyed Jack, is in the fight of his life, and engaged in a deadly cat and mouse game with his long-time nemesis. Surviving only by his cunning and street smarts, he must return to his painful past, and to the only person who can help him stop his arch enemy once and for all.





See you Sunday!



LC







Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Ides of October 2013

Wizards...

The Wizard of Santa Monica wasn't ready to go down. He fought well. Rather than mess with that any more, I waved my fist at him and ran to a different wizard, the one from Oxnard.

It is more manageable a story, although I had to delete all that I had from its previous incarnation.

But... New beginnings are fresh beginnings.

And to be honest, I can't really focus on this until I get done with Quantum in a few weeks.


Quantum vol 3!

I'm in the last stages of the copy-editing process of volume 3. Wow. It is really, really almost done.

And so, I settled on waiting until the week of October 15 to release The Quantum of the Past volume 3. That only makes me miss my original target of September 31 by two weeks. It gives me more than enough time to finish it and prepare the ebooks. And it prevents me from giving into that feeling of just getting it out of the way.

I will analyze the project as a whole, volumes 1, 2, 3, to see what lessons I can learn for future installments of that series. It was very interesting to do it this way, though I don't know that it would work for a project like Ascension.

But, more to follow on that thought...


October 2013

At last comes October. The Fall signals a few changes for me. I will be doing only writing. No revisions. No editing. No copy-editing.

I'm free to create!

I had hoped the summer would be my creating time, but alas, Quantum took my time.

My goals for October include: 1) Finishing three more Wizard stories; 2) Writing 10,000 words of Ascension; 3) Write two short stories for a workshop; 4) Prepare Quantum of the Past for Createspace.

Yeah. That's very ambitious. But the writing process is much, much different than working on a completed draft. Maybe I should post about that. Or not. There are few methods, theories, I am consciously aware of while drafting.


Have a Margarita for me!



LC


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Fractal Prince, a review

Here we are, at the end of the world. That was the feeling I had when I finished this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the climax and resolution, both showing innovations that I might later consider for my own work.

Of course, I am talking about The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, the second part of a planned trilogy. But more on this novel later.

So far this week, I've been duking it out with Quantum volume 3, and the wizard of Santa Monica. By Saturday I will know for sure if I'm still on schedule for an October 1st release. I may just go for mid October because I am also duking it out with that nagging need to just get The Quantum of the Past off of my plate already so I can move on to other things!!!!!


***



Overview

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi

Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: After failing to regain his memories in the previous installment of the trilogy, Jean le Flambeur, legendary thief, must return to the planet Earth to steal a valuable "artifact" that will help his employer, and secure his freedom.


What didn't work for me

The premise makes this seem like a one man show, but The Fractal Prince shares its wealth well. There are so many story arcs here, that it may be difficult for some to keep up. I had no problem with it except that the author has the habit of just going from one point of view character to the other, mostly within the same chapter. It really makes it a chore to keep up. And just wait until you get to the last few chapters where there are several twists... I had to go back to The Quantum Thief to make sense of one of those twists.

With that said, the main difficulty I had with this book was its aggressive use of made up words. Granted, the author explains more about them this time around, but it is still overwhelming. In the previous review, I showed an example of what Mr. Rajaniemi could do. The prose is denser this time.

The world-building of the Earth city Sirr would be more than enough for any novel, but here it is added on top of the previous novel's world building. It boggles the mind for a while, trying to figure out if the effects described are science or not, like the athar (which I think Jean calls the spimescape--a concept from the previous book).


What worked for me

The novel considers the role of identity in this post-human world in a very entertaining way. There is the All-Defector and Jean, and Jean and Sumanguru, and the multiple Mielis, and the Founders and the Aun. Without giving anything away, these characters are and are not each other. Their role in the story is unique in that identity can be flexible in a way that allows for two different entities to have, and be, the same identity.

It is more philosophical, without being obnoxiously so.

I also loved the way Mr. Rajaniemi plays with this old idea: What if we were all the dream of a greater being?

He bring to life a science fiction version of the idea. But I won't steer you the wrong way; the end is not some cop-out where all the events turned out to be someone's cryogenic dream or something.

It is well done, and allows for a few twists at the end.

I also enjoyed reading the development of the characters of the previous novels. Jean is less a cartoon character, showing multiple signs of being an A-hole. And Mieli is more than just the vessel of violence she was in the previous novel. She has to make some tough choices that brute strength cannot solve. Jean and Mieli cross a line that shows how desperate they are to accomplish the mission if only to get what the goddess they work for promised.

For Mieli it is a reunion with Sydan, her female lover. For Jean it is freedom, from himself and his obsession.

And yet, the novel concludes that it is impossible to run from yourself. When your "essence" is digital information that can be uploaded into bodies, there are few chances to become someone else.

Also, beyond the plot points, the novel is beautifully framed by stories. At the beginning, Jean meets the main antagonist of the trilogy, Matjek Chen in a dream. Of course, in this world, a dream isn't simply a dream, it is a vir (virtual reality scenario) where these digital people can interact--at least that's how I understood it. During the meeting, Jean begins to tell him a story, using the first lines of the next chapter. And that's how it goes. The novel is the story Jean is telling Matjek in his dream.

Along the way, stories take on a very important role. They are traded, used as currency, and as a way to steal your body! Ouch!

They tell me the structure used mimics an older story, The Arabian Nights (Thousand and One Nights). I haven't read that. But the framework of stories adds a dimension to this novel that makes it stand apart from other novels in this genre I've come across. So far at least.


Overall

The surprising nature of this novel made me want to buy it, if only to understand it later. At no point did I think that the author was lost in his own world. I am sure that the author knows this place in and out. It read that way, even when there were confusing elements.

Overall, The Quantum Thief and the Fractal Prince are challenging novels. They are dense with science and ideas that, when explained, arouse a world of questions. The author answers few of these, so if you keep going, like me, it is only because you love a good challenge.







LC






Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Quantum Thief, a review

Sooo, this was a short week thanks to the Labor Day holiday. It didn't mean I got much work done, however. Actually, I deleted content more than I added it to the stories I'm working on!

Fortunately, I finished (finally) these two novels, The Quantum Thief, and The Fractal Prince, both by Hannu Rajaniemi. I had already read The Quantum Thief and reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads, but I gave it another go.

The experience was considerably different, much of the content making more sense the second time around. I enjoyed them so much that I returned them to the library and bought their ebook counterparts for my ipad.

***


Overview:

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi

Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: Part one of a trilogy in which the main character, a legendary thief named Jean le Flambeur, escapes from a Dilemma Prison to steal something for a goddess. Their first order of business, and the main plot of The Quantum Thief, is to go to Mars to get Jean's memories back, so he can become the Jean le Flambeur of legend.


What didn't work for me

Just look at the premise! One of the off-putting elements of this novel is its hardcore introduction to the science of its fictitious world. While reading the first few pages, you get hit with a paragraph like this one:

"They are in a q-dot bubble fourteen klicks above the Cleopatra Crater, a little pocket of humanity, sweat and sex on a rough precipice of Maxwell Montes. Sulphuric acid winds roar outside. The amber light of the cloud cover filtering through the adamantine pseudomatter shell makes Sydan's skin run copper. Her palm fits the contours of Mieli's mons Veneris exactly, resting just above her still moist sex. Soft wings flutter lazily in her belly."

Those wings in that last sentence are not metaphoric.

It is a strategy of Fantasy and Science Fiction to introduce fictitious elements in the author's world, terms, names, etc., in this way. There is enough action here mixed with unknown elements (either because of their fictitious nature or because they require an intimate knowledge of theoretical physics) to be able to cruise through it with a small amount of work.

The problem, for me, was that this happens page after page so that it slows your reading to a crawl. I was tempted throughout to look up some of the terms I knew to be science, like the q-dot. But I really wanted to appreciate this without having to do serious research. It made me quite envious of people who study physics.

The other element that gave me a hard time was the narration. The narrators flip between Jean's first person POV and a third person POV that follows the actions of other characters. Why we didn't just get a third person POV for everyone is beyond me. It wouldn't work if it was only Jean's first person POV since some of the action takes place super-fast time that he would be unable to perceive!

Honestly, having Jean's voice wasn't that much of an advantage. I think I could have appreciated the story just as well without it. Or at least if you're going to try to flip between a third person and first person POV, give us separate chapters. Sometimes, the changes happen within one chapter so that Jean's "I" suddenly is Mieli accessing her metacortex (don't ask me what that is right now).

Finally, this novel squanders many opportunities to do more than just tell a nice genre story. There is the post-human reality of multiple versions of the same being, replicas that are exact down to the quantum states of their minds, all of whom may or may not be linked to one another.

To fully appreciate what was going on, I had to read the novel twice. At last I figured out what happened at the end, with the memories. The story here is very complex and the author helps you very little.


What worked for me

Basically, the same things that worked for me last time.

The world building is magnificent. It is very well thought out, expertly mixing hard science with theoretical science and fiction. And although the information came at you very quickly and with little explanation, there was no doubt that the author had command of the subject matter.

Rajaniemi has an authorial voice that drips with confidence. You truly feel at all times that the world is air tight. Nothing feels impossible or far-fetched. That truly is an accomplishment with this kind of story.

One example of this magnificence is the Martian world of the Oubliette, their exomemory system, their Time economy, and Life/Quiet reincarnation cycles.

In Mars, Mr. Rajaniemi answers the question: What if there was a collective whole where the memories of everyone in society could be accessible to all, like the newsfeed off of any internet news website?

I can see that as the evolution of the world wide web. There are other innovations too, so many that I would need multiple blog posts about them.

Despite the missed opportunities to do more than tell a genre story, the author does include points that make the reader think.

For example, there is a form of immortality in Mars, different than the immortality of the god-like Founders who are in outerspace. But there is the burden of being yourself. The catch is you can't live forever as someone else. It is always you who wakes up after being reincarnated into a body (enhanced or not). This point is better explored in the more philosophical, The Fractal Prince.

And of course, there are the characters themselves. After reading The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince together, you gain an appreciation for the characters that I didn't get from just reading the first novel.

The climax was fuzzy the first time, but it was very well done. The split between Jean and Raymonde at the end adds a layer of complexity to this incarnation of Jean. Refusing to get his old memories and become the legendary thief is an unusual development, given that this is a post-human copy of a post-human copy, going far back to the time when there were actual flesh and blood people on Earth. It should be easier for the main character, but he never feels like a copy.

Overall:

Having a degree in physics and/or cosmology and/or (preferably) theoretical physics would sure enhance your experience with and possibly your understanding of The Quantum Thief.

But if you're willing to machete your way through scores of unfamiliar terms, exotic worlds filled with beings that are descendants of humans, then you can love this novel. It is lovable.

It's the kind of story that requires more than one reading. Just now, I looked at the first chapter again because something that didn't make sense before finally makes sense now that I read the second installment!

I have a feeling that when the third novel in the trilogy comes out, I will have to read all the books again. And one more time to understand them.

No regrets though, especially since I'm not a science fiction writer. Oh, boy, if I was, this would be one of those novels that you hate to read because the author does it so well.



LC


Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Last of August

More Wizards!

Well, you can't say that summer didn't hit us here. The past week has been straight from Hell. Very warm. Yes. As Tyler put it, "It's Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't deal with it."

The interesting thing about writing a blog entry at the end of the week is that it pressures me to do something. It's an unusual side-effect. A positive one. I actually want to have something done to write about.

I didn't look at any particular story in The Wizards. Instead, I worked out a few world-building issues. As it stands, I decided these stories will definitely mingle with the world of Absolution (that thing I wrote two years earlier).

That world is already established and it is different enough, and green enough, to explore and expand. And so, there will be some characters in these stories from Absolution. The stories in The Wizards, then, will take place after the events of that book.

More Quantum!

I focused on Quantum vol. 3 this week. Its appendices all focus on the city where the action takes place, Lusphera (map to follow). I got tied up for a while trying to write in Old English before I gave it up. Or maybe not. We'll see how I feel the next time I look at that prophecy.

The editing was very involved too. I moved stuff up front. Added more interludes. Deleted a flurry of things. Now I'm doing the final readings, which will unfortunately take about three weeks to complete since the copy-editing is more difficult this time around. It's like the end of a trilogy. And looking back at the three volumes, it feels that way.

It's interesting the way things evolve.

***


***

It's pretty! 

And so, September snuck up on me. With luck, this coming week I can finish another Wizard story. More than likely, I'll keep chipping away at Quantum vol. 3. But who knows?

For sure though, writing here every week pressures me to do something with my projects during the week. But let me get back to work now and leave you alone.



LC








Saturday, August 24, 2013

One step back, two steps forward

Wizards!

Well, yes, I did add another story to The Wizards collection, which will bring the total to 7, along with a prologue and an epilogue. The new one is called The Wizard of Hollywood.

This balances out the amount of testosterone in the collection with estrogen (there was only one story with women as protagonists, but now there are two). Sadly, it creates more work for me. Ugh...

At least I finished The Wizard of Watts this week, like I had planned to. It is a rare thing for me to finish when I mean to. Along with that, however, I wrote the epilogue to the collection. That was unexpected and it made me happy. I'm going to celebrate somehow before the start of the semester.

It'll give my hands a break too. In the last three weeks I've written about 20,000 words. And counting. I've already started to fiddle with The Wizards of San Pedro. But I think I'll finish out one of the other wizard stories that is over 50% complete, like The Wizard of Santa Ana, which is by far the most challenging of the 7 stories.

Expelliarmus!

Expecto Patronum!

Accio inspiration!

If you've deduced that these Harry Potter things exist in my story collection, then you are correct--in a way, of course (JK Rowling has sharks for lawyers).

You think of the word "wizard" and you get certain images. Harry Potter is one of them. For me, Harry Dresden is another. And also for me, the "Weird Sisters" of Macbeth is another image. They are part of our popular culture. They are inescapable memes.

So, the inspired writer of fantasy stories that include "wizards" will ask themselves this question: Do I play along with existing wizard memes, maybe deviating from them just enough to give the tale a flavor of originality, or do I create some memes of my own?

It's just sooooo easy and tempting to use existing worlds, ideas, creatures of myth, that most writers use them and add a spike of originality (maybe a new creature to battle the vampire, wizard, zombie, were-wolf, etc.). This is completely acceptable, and hell, a very good way to make some money (see JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King).

But true to my one of my writing codes (Write the fiction that challenges your creativity), I went ahead and flew off the grid with the world building and story content/complexity.

The challenge is introducing the reader to this strange place without creating an orgy of exposition. This is one of the things I'm going to talk about when I write the review of The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince.


Quantum vol. 3!

I was very pleased with the progress I made with the last volume of Quantum. I finished the artwork for the appendices, as well as prepared the manuscript for editing. I even posted (in the Chasing the Coyote tab) that short play I finished last week.

Three reads and then I copy-edit! Then I proof the ebooks! It seems so long ago that I started volume 1, but it was only this winter. And then came the odyssey that was volume 2.

So, possibly by the end of September, I might be clicking on the "publish" button for volume 3 and...ah, yes, then I have to work on the novel version, which collects all three of those volumes. And yes, I suppose that means finding cover art for the cover, which is representative of the entire novel. And yes, I suppose it also means creating a printed version so it can be available as a paperback at least.

That just seems like a lot of work.


This Semester at Hogwarts!

It starts tomorrow. My goal this semester is to try to fail as many classes as possible while still maintaining my eligibility for graduation. It'll be a real trick, but I think I can do it.

And that's it for now. Maybe I will post again next Saturday with progress. Who knows?

Let's all be passive aggressive in our endeavors!




LC





Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Wizard of Los Angeles

The Los Angeles wizard went down after two weeks. The last week I wrote about ten thousand words! It surprises me what my little hands can do when properly motivated. That was more of a release. It has been so long since I put down anything new that had nothing to do with The Quantum of the Past.

I had a good writing week. Along with that short story, I also added a mini play to volume 3 of Quantum. That turned out better than I thought and took considerably less time to write.

Next week I want to take down another wizard, the one from Watts. That will put me in the right mood for the start of my last semester at school.

***

And I suppose this is the last of the summer of 2013. My one big accomplishment was that I wrestled volume 2 of Quantum into submission. I read very little, so little that I don't think my goodreads goal of 30 books for the year will go unfinished.

So much for writing Ascension. Or the other wizard stories.

Terrible...

At least I think I can get The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince read and reviewed.

Hopefully, the Fall will be more productive.



LC

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inferno, by Dan Brown, a review

The details are all too important to me. I spent months looking over the text of volumes 1 and 2 of Quantum to get them to a satisfactory state (not perfect). And so, when I pressed the "Publish" button on both I was understandably relieved.

Ironically, that amount of care and dedication didn't go into the blurb... It's been a few days since I published volume 2 and yesterday I noticed a booboo in the blurb description:

Iraq War veteran Miles Trevor has once chance to gain redemption for losing his men in the war--at least this is what he tells himself. To prove his worth, he undertakes a quest to help the teen Sprite, Kendra Lepree, return to her home in Lusphera. But this simple quest grows to Epic proportions.

I laughed softly and then, in a panic started pulling out my hair when I realized that when I wrote the blurb for the other publishing websites (Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords), I had simply cut and pasted that description. I fixed all of that today and now I don't look like a jackass when anyone reads the blurb.

It's a lesson learned: Don't cut and paste descriptions, at least not before you proof-read them.

So, what does this have to do with Dan Brown's work? A conversation about Dan Brown ultimately has to be about details. They are all-important in his work.

***

Overview:



Author: Dan Brown

Premise: Famed symbologist, Robert Langdon, wakes up in an Italian hospital without having any memory of how he got there or why. Very quickly he realizes that he had been trying to stop a madman from unleashing a monster on humanity.



Genre: Thriller









What didn't work for me:

I remember what the James Bond movies were like in the past (back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s). Each story was its own, unique entity that hardly acknowledged what came before it. This way, James Bond was always that cool, unaffected spy that could tackle whatever obstacles were in his way without worrying about the many, many men and women who died in his previous movies. The Indiana Jones movies are like that too (except that last one they made).

The Robert Langdon series is a bit like that. This will be Langdon's fourth story and I never get a sense that the main character has gone through hell in previous stories. I can deal with the narration not mentioning the events of Angels and Demons or The Davinci Code, but for Langdon not to remember or be affected by having met one of the descendants of Christ is a little far fetched.

For that matter, why isn't he affected by the fact that he keeps having these very bad days during which incredible things happen? I mean even John McClane and Jack Bauer acknowledge that very nasty things happen to them occasionally; they make jokes about it or are noticeably affected by these events.

In short, the style of storytelling feels dated, like those Lone Ranger and Zorro serials.

Aside from the style of storytelling, the nature of the story bothered me. I've said before that the narration does several things. One is describe events, and the other (something I haven't written about) is offer the reader insight into the mind of the author. Taken to an extreme, the fiction becomes propaganda and/or advertising.

We all know what advertising is, we see commercials for products everywhere. Propaganda comes in several forms, the most common are political and religious (a sermon). Less common is philosophical propaganda. I am not going to say that propaganda is evil and gosh darn it, Dan Brown should be punished for it. Propaganda is a tool that many governments and organizations take advantage of.

I will say that I am not a fan of any form of propaganda in fiction because it is sooooo blatantly obvious; I like books that make me think, not books that think for me.

Propaganda in fiction works like this: 1) Introduction to an issue or problem that is dire and very easy to recognize; 2) through the limited scope of the fiction, the author attempts to solve the problem; 3) in the fiction, the solution to the problem works out okay and hey, maybe we should apply it to the real world.

Now, this is not the same as an author being outspoken about a real issue in the world they live in, like Steinbeck in this passage from The Grapes of Wrath:

"And the migrants streamed in on the highways and their hunger was in their eyes, and their need was in their eyes. They had no argument, no system, nothing but their numbers and their needs. When there was work for a man, ten men fought for it--fought with a low wage. If that fella'll work for thirty cents, I'll work for twenty-five. ... And this was good, for wages went down and prices stayed up. The great owners were glad and they sent out more handbills to bring more people in. And wages went down and prices stayed up. And pretty soon now we'll have serfs again."

Dan Brown identifies a real problem in the world: Overpopulation. And he makes the mistake of trying to solve that problem by offering a possibility, a way technology can stop this problem effectively. In the context of Inferno, the solution seems okay--hell, it seems like a damn good option. But this is what the propaganda is supposed to do, make you think the solution (presented in the limited scope of the fiction) is something we ought to look into.

While the outspoken author presents a real problem and hopes real discourse can take place in the world to find a solution, the author of propaganda wants you to buy into the solution presented in the fiction.


What worked for me:

I remember the first thing that came to mind when I found out Dan Brown was coming out with another Robert Langdon novel: What is it going to be about? This was not a question about plot, but rather a question about its subject matter.

Dan Brown writes about some tantalizing issues.

And when the novel was published, I deliberately stayed away from any description of it. I just stuck to the, "It's a Robert Langdon novel." Reading it and discovering its subject matter was a real treat for me.

What this does is make Dan Brown stand out from the other authors who publish thrillers. I don't get excited when other authors in this genre publish something new. The only other authors who make me look forward to their work are great authors like Cormac McCarthy and George R. R. Martin.

And I appreciated the way this novel creates interest in a masterpiece like Dante's Divine Comedy. It brings to the average reader a focused and very informed look at the literature and other works of art it mentions. This is what I mean by saying that in a Dan Brown book, the details are all-important. Everything is precise, from descriptions of paintings, to GPS like descriptions of structures. The amount of research involved for a project like this is mind-boggling. Only a select few authors are willing to go this in-depth into what they write about.

I'm looking forward to more. Lots more. More Robert Langdon, please.

Aside from the subject matter, the exposition has grown on me. I remember when I read The Davinci Code, how awkward the long passages of exposition seemed. My perception of them changed when I understood this is distinguishing feature of the series.

Call me silly, but the scholarly lectures and materials included in the novel work on different dimensions. It is intriguing exposition that actually teaches you things. It is also very specific to the character Robert Langdon, who is a professor.

In Inferno, Dan Brown has also honed the exposition so it is not as imposing as it is in previous novels. Actually, Inferno seems well polished and reserved, no doubt the result of a good writer-editor relationship. Compared to The Lost Symbol, Inferno is superior.

Mind you, this doesn't mean it is in par with books like, say, The Grapes of Wrath, but it is showing change.

I also enjoy the fact that Robert Langdon is a simple professor, not an ex commando or a criminal or a cop. What helps Langdon is his intellect, not so much his brawn. He is not like the too-common detective, who has been trained to deal with these stressful situations. He is also not like the Indiana Jones clones, who can't wait to get out on another adventure. Langdon, because of his personality and profession, fits well in a classroom and would rather stay in it.

And even though he meets these beautiful women who might be romantic interests, he engages them in a realistic, reserved manner. So, missing are the gratuitous sex scenes in some novels of this same genre, and the false way in which the good guy ends up with the girl at the end.

We make up for that with some honest, and much more satisfying discourse on why relationships work and don't work. Langdon acknowledges that getting involved with these women would be thrilling, but in the long run, not fulfilling. And dammit, that's something I can respect.


Overall:

Every time I read a Robert Langdon novel, I learn something. And isn't that the point of reading a book? If you're willing to laugh at the way Mr. Brown solves the problem presented in the novel, like I did, then Inferno can be a satisfying addition to the Robert Langdon series.

Like always, what makes a novel enjoyable to me is different per novel. In this case, the character of Robert Langdon, combined with the fast paced plot and the beautiful details of the subject matter, made this a novel I will contemplate.





LC


Monday, August 5, 2013

Volume 2

I defeated volume 2 of The Quantum of the Past. It left me tired, especially after a week of repetitive work to get the ebook formatting done to where I wasn't cringing every time I flipped a page.

I was not very happy that Amazon made me charge $1.99 instead of the $0.99 I wanted to charge. I had to charge $1.99 on all the other versions of the ebook as a result. Maybe it was because it's so much thicker than the previous volume?

My maps look okay at least, but I'm still going to add them here.

The whole experience with volume 2 left me feeling frothy. I'm looking forward to writing new things. The rest of my summer I'm going to work on the short stories for The Wizards. They are less time consuming and should give me more satisfaction than working on novels.

Ah, yes, and then there's volume 3 of Quantum.

At least I don't have to do the cover for that one.





LC

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Myth of "Show, don't tell," addition 1

It has been a looooooooong time since I wrote a post about writing. What with Miles Trevor keeping me busy, it has been hard to find any time to write. But as I begin to see the light at the end of that tunnel, I can begin work on my other (late) projects.

This one here is overdue. Since I wrote that post about "show, don't tell," I meant to add to it. The post was such an enormous one that I couldn't get everything I wanted into it. This is the first of many additions, where I will elaborate on some points I made earlier.

The first addition focuses on a subject I only hinted at in the first "show, don't tell" post: What does sensory information tell you?

Mind you, these are my thoughts. Whenever I present one of my preferences, I will say so and will make clear that there are other preferences and that there is no one "correct" or "best" preference.

And so, here are my thoughts on sensory information.



Sensory Information and Emotional States


I: A word on Description

I may have said this before, but I will say it again. What the writer of fiction does is manipulate the elements of fiction towards some end. So, what does that mean?

In laymen's terms, writers of fiction describe events that are of a fictional nature. Here, I won't go on a tangent about narration in fiction that does not describe events, but gives insights into the opinion of the character / narrator / author. 

The word "event" should not be confused with the word "scene" or "action." A scene is part of a play. Action, in fiction, involves many events.

An event is an occurrence or happening that may or may not involve characters, but always involves setting (characters and setting are elements of fiction). 

A description of a wedding includes characters and setting. A description of a storm in the desert may not include characters. 

Note: The description of an event involves more than just characters and setting; tone, pace, rhythm, diction, dialogue, etc. are equally important, but for the nature of this post, I will focus on characters and setting.


II: A word on Sensory Information

What is Sensory Information? It is data collected by sensory receptors in your body, which your brain interprets. This usually involves the five senses: Touch; sight; sound; smell; taste.

Note: In some fictions, there are more than five senses. My concern here lies with the five senses only. 

A common piece of advice given to writers is that they should evoke the senses. This seems like fair advice, but they never say why. It confused me for a long time. Why evoke the senses?

The answer is obvious now: We make sense of the world thanks to the information gathered by the senses. Except there is a hiccup to this. Whenever I read a book, I'm not tasting the food described, or smelling the flowers, or admiring the piece of art, or touching this or that...

When I read, I hold a book in my hands. The data my bran interprets is brought in by my eyes only.

How do writers evoke other senses then? Consider that whenever a sunset is described, my mind creates a picture aided in part by the description in the book and the images of sunsets that come from my experiences. It is the same when a writer describes the taste of food or the smell of flowers and other things or the feel of this or that or the way a voice sounds; my mind helps by summoning memories of similar foods I've consumed and flowers I've smelled and textures I've encountered and people I've heard. A skilled author may help you more by stimulating your imagination, but this can only go so far. 

Even when describing a futuristic world or a fantasy world or some item or phenomenon never experienced by the reader, the brain must use existing data gathered from experience to fill in the blanks. And this is always the case, regardless of what senses the author tries to evoke.


III: Perception and Sensory Information 

How do I make you understand that I am sad? Do I go up to you and tell you? Can you deduce it thanks to some clue(s)? 

One of the most disappointing aspects of being human is not knowing with 100% certainty what other humans feel or think. 

When you see a person in tears, do you automatically think they are upset? If you see someone laugh, do you automatically think they are happy? The sensory information gathered is very limited. Consider also that the emotions I just mentioned, happy, upset, are some of the simplest there are. What about complex conditions like depression? 

This poses a challenge to writers who want you to clearly understand the emotional states of their characters. Of course, emotions and emotional states have been around since the dawn of humanity. And since then, storytellers have sought ways to convey them.

My Preference: A fine way to gain ideas about describing emotional states is to look at stories from the past, which describe emotional states that now have clinical labels, like depression. Look at Melville's short story, Bartleby, the Scrivener. The word depression is absent from the text, but the titular character's mental state can easily fall under that category.


IV: The Myth of "Show, don't tell"

I have read countless blog posts and articles describing the "best" way to describe emotions. Many of these lean on the mantra, "show, don't tell." Or, that I should "show" the emotions the characters feel, not "tell" the reader about them. 

Many of these articles literally just told me to do this and that and this and that, and heaven help me if I did it this other way because that's the mark of an amateur. Many of these articles and blog posts gave reasons for why their way of doing things is correct. 

Of course, these are just preferences. I can argue for my own preferences, but why do it? I have my preferences, you should too. And, as I may have said before, in the battle of the preferences, yours should always win.

Let me give you examples of what I saw:

The room spun and Johnny gripped a table to keep steady; his heart thumped and thumped against his chest like a police officer trying to break down a door. He let out half giggles for no reasons except that the moment called for them. He noticed one of Mrs. Hammerstein's roses in the distance and he marveled at its beauty and glory. The sun had just emerged from the clouds and his mind was a sea of hope, guiding him towards a brighter future.


Mary dug in her pocket for her keys, but her fingers failed to grip them. "Why go in there?" she thought. She knew with all certainty what was waiting for her if she opened that door. Doug would want dinner right away and yell at her for it not being warm enough or because it was too warm. "I'll make some snide remark and he'll slam the plate down." And she would go to the bathroom and stay there and he would call out her name to come and give him another beer. And another beer. And another beer. "And then the world will end when he wraps his arms around me in bed and fucks me."


Christina quickly pulled the curtain to conceal her face.


Walt lingered at the entrance to the pitch black cave. His hands trembled and when he took an exploratory step into the darkness, he stumbled on something and yelped. It took a few seconds for him to steady his breathing and take another step. 

A car's tires squealed and the deafening clap and crunch of two cars colliding filled the office. Terry ran to the window, along with others. She did not take a breath when she noticed it was her husband, Ronald's car, split in half, its fluids coating the sidewalk surface. She gasped, as a diver reaching the surface, when Ronald stepped out of the mess, red, red with blood, and collapsed.


The theory in these examples is that if you use specific details, or "showing" instead of "telling," that the reader will be more engaged in the emotion. 

Examining these examples, one thing is clear: They use sensory information. In other words, if you or I were in the setting, looking at these individuals, we might gather the information given in the description. 

So, what are these people feeling? 

I wrote these, so I should know. But I don't. 

Is Johnny happy or has he lost his mind or does he suffer from bi-polar disorder and this is a manic episode?

And Mary's example does not count. Do you see why? Thoughts. The narration quotes her thoughts and describes them since it is a Close Third Person POV. Her thoughts "tell" you what she feels even while they never mention any emotion. They are not specific details we would be able to witness. 

Is Christina embarrassed or trying to hide that she's blushing or self-conscious about her looks? 

Is Walt afraid? Are you sure he is? What if I told you he was procrastinating because this was the first day on the job as a part of a rescue team and he was nervous? Nervous or afraid?

What specifically about Terry's actions tell you what emotion she is feeling? She could easily be ecstatic or shocked, depending on how she feels about Ronald. Maybe she had been plotting to kill him and Fate stepped in and did it for her. 

And so, here are a few lessons that I learned while researching:

1) Sensory Information tells you very little. Tears on someone's face "show" you nothing except tears on someone's face.

2) Without context, it is nearly impossible to tell what a character is undergoing emotionally.

3) Without a clear understanding of what the character is feeling, it is difficult for me to respond appropriately; should I feel sorry for Johnny or laugh with him? Should I feel pity for Terry or despise her for getting what she wanted?

4) Why are all of those examples in the Third Person voice? I have never come across one that is in the First Person. The answer is that First Person POV is vastly different than Third Person and so, "show, don't tell" would have to be modified extensively to work there (something nobody really wants to do).


V: On Emotional States

While Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is in my opinion a beautiful and important short-story (in my top ten list), his Hills Like White Elephants is painful to read.  

Part of the reason I dislike Hills so much is that it reads like a creative writing assignment: Write a story in which you describe every event without the benefit of thoughts or naming the emotional states of the characters. It is gimmicky. It screams that the writer is exploring a technique. 

And those examples I gave above read just like that (to me anyway). I kept thinking, "Why is the writer beating around the bush?" It also feels exaggerated, like you want me to know that you can definitely describe things. 

Would a simple, "Johnny began to have a manic episode," help me understand Johnny "better"? 

Who the hell knows! All that I have of Johnny's story is that one piece. Who knows what it's about or what the pace of the piece is or tone or intent? Without all of that, there is no way I can say what would be more appropriate. Maybe the first sentence of Johnny's story would be: Here was Johnny H., who suffered from bi-polar disorder. Maybe that would work. 

I don't know. 

I do know there are many ways to describe emotional states. Your preferences and story context will dictate which way is appropriate. 

I also know that anyone who says there is only one correct way to describe emotion is wrong. That, my friends, is a myth.



LC






Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Local Author Faire

Local Author Faire 2013

Palos Verdes Library District is proud to present the 2nd Annual Local Author Faire!
Are you a local author?  Would you like an opportunity to share your work with your community?  Then, this event is for you! 
We are now accepting applications from local authors for the event on Sunday, September 29, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at Peninsula Center Library.  The deadline for applications is Monday, August 12.  Local authors should drop off a copy of their book to the Peninsula Center Library, Administration Office, 2nd Floor or mail to: Palos Verdes Library District, Administration, 701 Silver Spur Rd., Rolling Hills Estates, CA 90274.
We would like to showcase local authors from the Palos Verdes area, though it may be possible to accommodate authors from the greater Los Angeles area as well.  We welcome authors of all genres—fiction, non-fiction, children’s, mystery, romance, historical, etc. 
At the event, each participating author will be given a table and two chairs and a chance to speak or read.  Promotion will be done prior to the event.
For more information, please call: 310-377-9584 ext. 310 or email localauthorfaire@pvld.org.
Space is limited.  Palos Verdes Library District reserves the right to choose the authors to showcase.  There are no refunds on application fees.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Quantum Covers, redux...

There are two more weeks left in July! Holy Mother! It's all going by too fast and I'm not getting as much done. I realize this and asked for a little help.

I shouldn't be spending so much time on my book covers since it's taking away from working on my projects. At the pace I'm going, I'll be lucky to get anything else published this year. Thankfully, I asked for some help and got it.

Niina from Helsinki (this is her website), Finland, offered some help and I accepted. Here are the covers she did for me:








Now I can focus on the actual novel.



LC
















Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Month of July

Well, I've about put volume two of The Quantum of the Past out of my misery. I'm finishing up the copy-edits currently. With that goes the bulk of the burden, so to speak. Volume three is not as long.

Last month I made almost no progress on any of my projects. The Santa Monica College shootings soured that for me. And Quantum took up what time I did use.

So, it's time to play catch-up. And what a month to do it! The summer is in full bloom with temperatures and humidity peaking high, high.

I finally restarted Ascension today and each day I will add something to it. My goal is to have a draft by the end of August. This is actually a fun thing for me, since the Detective Adam story is less complex than anything in Miles Trevor.

But I'm going to split my days in two (my free days that is). Each day I will also work on one of the short stories that will make up The Wizards. This too I want to have drafted by the end of August.

And yes, I do mean to read all the books on my list. I've had to extend the deadlines on the books I checked out from the library and can't keep those indefinitely.

I am very pleased that I can get back to work.





LC

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Goblin Secrets, a review...

When reading children's literature of today, I have to remember that it is very specialized; the author and publisher target an audience (a business market), which in this case is younger folk. Therefore, some aspects of these stories will appeal to me and others will not.

I had this in mind when reading Goblin Secrets and as I expected, some elements are for the amusement of children only. Whether this is a positive or negative thing is beyond me to conclude at this point (maybe in a hundred years?).

***
Overview:

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
Genre: Fantasy / Steampunk(ish) / Coming of age

A boy named Rownie tries to find his missing brother, while evading a witch named Graba and the local authorities of the city of Zombay. Thanks to the help of some friendly goblins, he discovers the hidden power of masks, which in the end helps him grow as a person.

What didn't work for me:

I mentioned that some aspects of this novel are for children alone to enjoy. One of those is the world building. The city of Zombay reminded me so much of a theme park, that it convinced me that it was created to feel that way because kids love theme parks. And like a theme park, I just don't see it functioning as a real city in the world.

It is different than say, the Shire, which Tolkien wrote to feel like a place that was once there and you might find its ruins if you looked for them. Zombay is too much the typical fantasy town (a poor community segregated from an entitled community) for me to see it as more than that.

It was also tough for me to enjoy one of the book's central symbols: The mask. It's so overused that it's almost a cliche. Granted, Mr. Alexander adds a flair of originality to it, but it is piled on top of things we have seen before about masks; we all wear a mask; we hide behind masks; sometimes the mask becomes the person.

I was also surprised at how much I didn't empathize with the protagonist. Rownie just did not appeal to me; he is sooooooooo nondescript. Is he intentionally that way so kids could easily put themselves in his place (like wearing a mask)? I could not make up my mind about that.


What worked for me:

The climax was a little fast, but worthwhile. Mr. Alexander does a very interesting thing with his masks that was dramatic and touching.

He also follows through on his theater theme all the way to the end of the novel. That mask symbol I wasn't cool with works well in this sense. The theater element to the plot also adds to it (although it is limited to just the theater and not other performing arts or other arts in general). And the chapter headings as "scenes" and the book-part numbers as "acts" is clever, but mostly superficial. Still it's all thematically relevant.


Overall:

The book was given a National Book Award.

I would say it ranks as a decent, though simple, read. As far as juvenile fiction goes, I've seen more complex and rewarding, like The Hobbit and The Giver. To be fair though, this era hasn't produced the most complex books (The Hobbit is more complex than 99% of all the books published in the last ten years). And besides that, how many authors win when compared to Tolkien?

However, if I had children, I would give them this book to read. It's an excellent segue-way into more complex fiction. I also think the tone and feel of the novel would appeal to them more than it did me.




LC




What is life without pain?