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Perdido Street Station

“The polymorphous four-way wooing became fraught and competitive. Stroking, touching, arousing. Each moth in turn spiralled moonward, drunk on lust. It would split the seal on a gland hidden under its tail and exude a cloud of empathic musk.” China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

The first I’d heard of China Miéville was when I’d found by accident and voraciously devoured King Rat. It was Miéville’s first novel and I was enthralled. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was before the Nook. I tried to remind myself to read more of his work, but prior to ebooks shopping for books tended to be more chance than planned. I was a faithful used book shopper, so the titles I picked up were limited to what I found. The good thing is, I still have a good paperback copy of King Rat that I will likely re-read soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love real, truly physical books. It just wasn’t as easy to follow up when it required a trip to the bookstore as it is now that I can look it up the moment I finish one.

At any rate, the release of his latest, Railsea, put his name back out into the æther. It tickled some dusty trapdoor buried beneath the old and mildewed cardboard boxes of my memory. So, naturally, I went to Google to solve the problem of my malformed memories.

Almost the moment Google spat out its many and varied responses, the rusted hinges of my locked away memories flew wide and scattered motes of dust and cobweb elsewhere in my sadly misused brainpan. Oh yes. I remember him now.

China Miéville is this sexy, left-wing, British Socialist usually counted among the New Weird. I spent a good few moments with his image search results before getting back to whatever it was I had googled for in the first place.

Rather than go straight for his latest release, I decided to stick with his own patterns of growth and publication. I had already read his first novel, so why not move on to his second. Perdido Street Station was quickly purchased and on hand for my leisure. A leisure that I put all else aside for.

This novel is not for the casual skimmer. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs of descriptive narrative to the next bit of dialogue, this is not for you. If you require that every element of a new and fantastic world be carefully described and explained with context, you can move on. In fact, if you require that a person, beast, or amalgamation of both be described so fully as to paint a picture for you, you need not stop here. Miéville draws Bas-Lag with both fat and fine pointed brushes, but leaves the sentient bits for you to design according to your needs. Most people/creatures are given a fair enough assessment that you can place them in your brain-movie without exacerbating any existing strains or fractures. Some are so indescribably beyond reference that any image of it limited only to the artistry of your own grey matter.

The city. The city-state of New Crobuzon is where the intricate details are laid out. If you’re familiar with Ankh-Morpork or Lankhmar, you know exactly what I mean. If you aren’t, you probably don’t. I don’t even know that I can explain it without watering it down with insulting low-brow comparisons. Just know that Miéville knows grit and grime and urban sprawl and social dysfunction and architectural discord and decay like no other. I wanted to move into New Crobuzon just so that I could complain about it.

If you are a fan of fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, steampunk, or anything that skirts the mainstream, you will enjoy this book. No, enjoy isn’t even fair. You will eat this book with your fingers and face and suck the juices from its pages.

Next up for me, keeping a narrow eye on his own growth and progression, comes The Scar.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Beta Readers, Beta Reading

As is probably common with most writers, I have not had the best success in finding willing and able beta readers. More often, I can find willing people who are not exactly able. Well, able to actually ever offer up feedback anyway. It is a boon to find someone who can or will take the time to read a work in progress. It is, unfortunately, far worse when the best you get from that person is, ‘I liked it’ or, worst case scenario, you never hear from them again.

I am not too proud to mention that my mother (yes, my mother) has been my most effective beta reader for the purpose of pure editing over content editing. She is my mother, so I tend to fear that her lack of plot or story input is based in uterine muscle memory rather than a critical eye. Even so, she has the keenest eye for grammar and sentence structure that I could ask for. So good, in fact, that I don’t look for other beta readers in that area. What I hope for is a reader that can give me feedback about character development, plot momentum, setting, background, and all of the other various and sundry elements that are far less clinical and far more esoteric.

Jami Gold offered a pretty clear illustration on beta readers in her blog. The point she made that resounded most with me is this: If I want quality beta readers, I’d probably better start offering myself up for some beta reading as well. I had a dear friend who is an accomplished short story author ask me to beta read for her first full length, YA novel. Within two chapters, I confessed that it was getting in the way of my writing and I wouldn’t be dependable. Well, that is no longer an excuse. With three completed manuscripts in the editing process, I can safely allow myself to read now.

So, here it is: Writers, I am willing and able to be your beta reader. I confess, my tastes are limited to Steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, essays, and various YA genres. Anything else may find a hard time maintaining my attention, but I am willing to offer up brutal and constructive criticism if it means I might be able to call on you later. Feel free to contact me here and we can work out something based on your timeline.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Boggling over Backstory

So, how important is it to include all of the tiny and potentially inconsequential details that you’ve labored over in creating your own world or your own version of our world?

This is a problem that I faced first and foremost in writing my fantasy manuscripts. Since I was creating an entirely new world, I wanted to hammer out details of the economy, the judicial system, class and caste, the ecology and environment, and of course, the history. To me, it was important to have all of this decided in case it was relevant to the story. And, admittedly, it was the more satisfying part of developing a fantasy world. This is the instance in which a writer becomes a god, capable of creating and destroying and turning the tides of evolution and development to suit his or her needs.

The problem, then, became how much of this information to include in the actual manuscript. For instance:

“Their rootstocks cultivated to limit expansion and their limbs pruned to prevent uncontrolled growth, the black-barked trees looked like nothing less than a phalanx of fastidious soldiers…”

This passage from Blood of a Godkiller shows up in the first chapter. The protagonist is, as is usual, a simple youth tossed into the larger world. He comes from a sharecropping town that handles the bulk of the apple supply for this small realm. Now, I know that the extent of climates inclusive to this realm is such that this particular area is best suited for apples. I also know that the powers that be have a habit of encouraging singular production to maintain control over the economy. As such, any attempt by the community or its landed lord to challenge the existing power structure would be met with an attack on their one and only sustainable crop. A history of ore production from nearby mountains had once provided this territory with considerable wealth, but meddling administrators worked to diffuse the monopoly by encouraging mining in another territory with similar access to ore veins.

My first inclination was to provide all of this information at the introduction to the settlement because I had assumed the reader would want to know everything they could about Wylard’s Ferry before moving on to the next new concept. After creating a relentlessly informative first chapter with absolutely no action, no plot formation, and no character development, I realized that I was writing an encyclopedia entry rather than a story. Well, no, that isn’t exactly accurate. It wasn’t until beta reader after beta reader told me the first chapter was a plodding mess of unwieldy facts that I realized my mistake. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I was able to find it within myself to hack and slash my way through the morass to rewrite the entire chapter.

So, I went back through the original manuscript and peppered some of the information throughout. I wanted to incorporate some of the same ideas, but I needed truncated versions that could be incorporated without turning into lectures. So, in chapter five, I added to a conversation:

“We’ve kept the people poor for fear that inheritance rights among these xenophobic farmers and stonewrights might create an amassed wealth too far from Canon to be controlled,”

There I tackle the importance of why this particular territory is so poor in comparison to some of its neighbors. It actually leads into a specific instance in the sort of tactics used, including the introduction of a disease that causes women to become infertile, but that’s neither here nor there. The important this was that I was able to sneak in a bit more of what I thought to be a very important component of the backstory without resorting to endless historical accounts.

I put off the history of the territory’s once-wealthy past because it wasn’t entirely relevant to character or story development. I kept the information, however, and did include it in the next manuscript because it made much more sense there. And, as an avid reader, I don’t find it too offensive to continue learning about the world from book to book. I also waited to deal with the specifics of the ecology as it applies to the apple-farming community because the breadth of travels is larger. Where the first manuscript primarily takes place in a relatively small area, the second sends the protagonist across the realm. It just made more sense to delve into the broader ecology when it was actually relevant.

So, really, more than anything my thought is this: Developing a world from scratch is the most exciting, agonizing part of writing off- and other-world fiction. I’m still tackling with how I present the science-magic of the realm without explaining it. I’m still fretting over characteristics of places and people that I want to include, but cannot find a really good reason to do it. Ultimately, having a beta reader with superior grammatical and spelling skills (thanks, Mom!), the bulk of my edits are focused on turning historical discourse into descriptive prose.

Never mind the entirely different set of problems I discovered in maintaining some level of accuracy peppered with alternative history in writing the Steampunk manuscript…

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Idea Seed

“Prior to the Godkilling, man and animal were left helpless in the face of a petty deity that wielded tools of making and unmaking on whim alone. His anger brought flood and famine and his favor gave tremendous power to those corrupt ecclesiastic orders that rose up to worship him. His power was the power to supersede the will of man.”
An excerpt from The Godkilling by Yrdwar Senelane, Collegium Historian.

This is the flavor text that opens the first chapter of my fantasy manuscript. The entirety of the story began with one idea: What if people could kill their God when they got tired of everything attributed to him. Believing that hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes are ‘acts of God’ or that one sports team wins by the grace of God and the other loses, presumably, because they’ve curried less favor with God is the sort of logic that allows a person to run the course of their life without taking much responsibility for anything. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma believes that climate change is false because the bible states that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night’. Blind faith in the face of science. So what if people could kill their God to end not only the natural events attributed to him, but also the fervor that his followers use to do damage to the society?

When I started writing Blood of a Godkiller, I wanted to create a society that existed not just godlessly, but in spite of God. Random and occasional attempts within the population to recreate a deity-based belief system are met with the harshest of punishments: death. Speaking of the dead has finite social acceptability to avoid reconnecting with the antiquated notion of an afterlife. Cursing revolves around creative use of the dead God’s anatomy and reinforces irreverence as a means of social control.

Oddly, though I expected to find this mythical place exciting and liberating, it evolved quite a bit differently. With no preternatural being to dictate the laws of society to them, the people within my fictional society took his place and were no better off for it. A vacuum of power was created in his displacement and, as might be expected, various human entities fought to take over. Despite my inclinations and as imaginary friends tend to do, the people of the realm developed almost independently of me. Because their God had been a physical manifestation that existed on the same plane as them, they were not only able to kill him, but they were also able to witness his manipulation of the world in real and actual terms. Unfortunately, despite their abhorrence for their God, they fell easily into replicating his manipulative form of governance once he was gone.

Nevertheless, this was the idea that gave birth to my first completed manuscript and the evolution of it gave me pause to consider our own reality quite a bit.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Wormfall

Yesterday was the beginning of something we call Wormfall in our house.

Best as we can tell, the neighbor’s enormous old tree is infested with thrips. Whether they’re actually thrips or not is still up for debate, but our best Googling suggests that this is what the little beasties are. Every year near the earliest part of spring, when the tree is budding, a shower of wee little worms begins and lasts for nearly two weeks. You don’t know it’s started until you’ve spent a minute outside and suddenly find your clothes and hair dusted with tiny squirming things much smaller than a maggot, but no less repulsive. By time Wormfall has ended and someone (not me, oh no, not me) has taken a broom to the back patio, easily thousands of the things have died on the concrete. Even the birds eventually give up on trying to make a meal of the minuscule monsters.

I took the horrifying event as inspiration for an encounter in Heart of the Realm, the sequel manuscript to my first fantasy tale. Following is the passage that first introduces Wormfall:

“Wormfall,” he said in awe. He felt both Eloise and Lira take opposite hands and drag themselves up from the ground. The girls clung to him with a desperate strength as the trio took in the awful sight before them.

Jutting from a gaping hole in the earth, a giant mass quivered and shook, knocking back trees and crushing men with its astounding weight. As big around as a covered wagon, the worm was a sickly yellow-white stained by dirt and raw ore. Rather more fat than segmented, its body bulged and roiled as it flailed about blindly. The surfaced end of the weirding beast tapered off into a puckered hole the size of a melon, the only sign that the monster had a head at all. No eyes or nose or feelers, just a mouth like an enormous ass. As they watched, the beast recoiled in on itself then stretched upward, vomiting up a virulent green mass that flew through the air and caught a frantic stallion in the chest.

The wet globule stuck to the horse’s flesh, igniting the poor beast with caustic acids. Even as its hide caught fire and it reared backward in terror, the projectile uncoiled, revealing a puppy-sized replica of the adult burnworm. The newborn spawn writhed against the dying horse’s burned skin, burrowing its way into the poor beast’s body even as it screamed in agony and collapsed to the ground.

“That was Sunny Day. I rode him when we left Canon.” Lira’s tiny voice was flat and hollow. Rane felt her grip loosen before she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.

“Wormfall,” Eloise repeated Rane’s word, awestruck. “The burnworms rarely come this far north to birth their clutch.”

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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What’s in a Name?

I recently added a @tobiaswrites account on Twitter and an interesting tweet by Jonathan D. Beer got me thinking about naming characters in a manuscript. He tweeted “I hate inventing names!” and I got on the Google machine to bring up some name generators as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for him. I’ve come across these things nearly since online billboards and 2400 baud modems were the norm. For the most part, they have always provided awful concoctions like Lily Night and Enoch Trueblood (courtesy of the Vampire Name Generator) or Alfmir Matmar the White and Wyraryradas (thank you, Random Name Generator). Quite by accident, I found this Random Name Generator that managed to spit out quite a few reasonable and generally usable names providing you aren’t looking for otherworldly names.

In writing up my Steampunk manuscript, I worked a lot with websites that list popular 19th century baby names such as babynamesgarden.com as well as sites that provide the names of historical figures from the same era such as famouspoetsandpoems.com. From there, it’s really a matter of flavor.

In writing my fantasy manuscripts, the effort was considerably less reliant on existing websites. Some names belong to characters that share specific traits with people I know in real life. When these characters were inspired by people I actually know, I tended to pay some vague homage to that person without it seeming contrived. So, for instance, a key character in Blood of a Godkiller was written to display the same social ease and indefatigable good nature that a friend has. Beyond that, they don’t share too entirely much, so I didn’t want to make an obvious reference. Instead, the character and the actual person share the first and last letters of their name and everything in between was determined by what sounded good, fit with other names I had created, and read easily in the mind without too many possible variations by reader.

As a reader, fantasy names can help to develop the world I am experiencing or they can be an enormous lodestone. If I have to wrap my brain-mouth around ‘Wyraryradas’, I am likely to nickname the character something like Wormhat or Wordy-Word-Ass because I can’t for the life of me imagine what the author intended. If Wordy-Word-Ass is supposed to be a strong, silent barbarian from some mythic wasteland, the essence of the character loses a lot because of his ridiculous name. Although not absent in fantasy, the damnable apostrophe tends to make a mess of so much science fiction in the same way. I’m sorry if I can’t feel for the poor alien orphan named A’gli’zzt’tig’tig, but she reads like the coffee maker just blew a fuse.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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