Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pining For A Non-Gender Specific Pronoun

I know that’s probably not on everyone’s wish list, but I sure find myself longing for one lately. I cannot believe the English langue doesn’t have one. Somebody was not thinking clearly when they sat down to make up that pronoun list.

In light of this, I think grammar puritans everywhere should just agree that we can use they as a non gender specific pronoun. It would make everything so much simpler! And it’s not the only instance of a word taking its actual meaning from the context it’s used in.

And yes, I also spend time fretting over the plight of the serial comma, the passing of the subjunctive were, and the extinction of bibliographies.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tropes versus Resonance

I hear a lot of talk about tropes, especially in fantasy, but also in the larger body of books in general. Tropes, for any who don’t know, are basically clichéd plot devices, or at least that’s how I interpret it. I think the actual definition is that they are conventions, which is pretty different than a cliché, but 90% of the time when the word is used it is meant negatively.

But here’s the thing. Me? As a reader? I LOVE tropes. Can’t get enough of them. Because many of the tropes that other writers sneer at provide my reading experience with mythic underpinnings.

I have read books that others consider fresh and trope-free, providing a refreshing breath of fresh air into the genre. But you know what? Even though I know intellectually that I should appreciate these books for their ground-breaking ways, I usually find that I don’t connect with them emotionally, nothing about them resonates with me and I end up putting them down.

Which goes to just how many different kinds of readers there are and how many different things we look for in books. Mitali Perkins had a fabulous discussion a while back theorizing that younger readers read to expand their world while YA readers read to reinforce their world. I think there are similar, if more complex, dynamics at work in what we as adults read.

I remember once reading a quote from Ursula La Guin that stated something to the effect that all those writers who set their books in any sort of medieval or Western European setting were just lazy fantasists. And I was hurt by that—not as a writer, but as a reader. Those stories call to me. I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe because I was raised on fairy tales or because that’s where my ancestors came from or because one of my first great fantasy influences was Tolkien. I don’t know, but I also don’t think it’s something we can help, sort of like we can’t really control who we fall in love with. It strikes me as—yes, I’ll say it—elitist to claim that all these conventions are tropes. Maybe, but maybe they are conventions because they resonate with readers in some way they don’t resonate for whomever is doing the trope-calling?

The things some people call tropes, the MC being the chosen one for example, I see as being as much a part of story as the words once upon a time. They mirror important steps on every person’s journey to maturity and understanding. We all start off believing we are the chosen one, why else would our parents’ worlds revolve around us? It is a critical step in human development to recognize that either we are not “chosen” or, to come to terms with the massive amount of responsibility that comes with being chosen.

The old wise one as mentor is another trope that takes a beating but again, this totally works for me. Some of my closest, most treasured relationships when I was a kid were with my grandmothers. I loved them, and now, seeing that reflected in a book. I also think that fantasy is akin to fairy tales, which codify the behaviors we want to pass down to our young. Reinforcing for them that older people have something to offer too—wisdom—is not a bad thing.

Some people sneer at the HEA found in romance books, but there are certain dark places I simply will not go in fiction, not unless I know I’m in the hands of a writer who can bring me out again and help me land in an even better place than when I went in.

So how do we tell the difference between a tired convention (trope) or time-revered resonance? Is it a matter of execution? Does good writing elevate a trope to something resonant and mediocre writing condemn it to hackneyed cliché?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Adventures in Reflexology

I was very excited when, a few months ago, a reflexology place decided to hang its shingle in our little town. It is a very hip, forward thinking type of establishment for us. It also has to have some of the best deals ever. Only $20 for a 30 min reflexology treatment. About a month ago, I decided to give it a try, and my feet were very, very happy with me.

I went back this Saturday, thinking my feet were due for another treat. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was so divine I decided I should splurge and go for the combo, which is 30 minutes on your feet, and 30 minute on your shoulders, neck, and upper back. For only $35! Such a deal! Plus, my upper back and shoulders are really tired of me mousing and using the keyboard all the time and needed a little work. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

But as I sat there trying to decide, I was also aware of how sometimes, just taking one more step is taking things too far and upsetting a delicate balance. Then I decided I was just being Miss Panic Pants. What was the harm in a little more reflexology?

Oh dear reader, there was harm. Lesson number one, always listen to your gut.

Okay, maybe harm is too harsh a word. But there was pummeling. And pounding. And many, many tender spots I did not know I possessed. Pretty much it felt like he was beating me up. And smiling cheerfully the entire time. And charging me for it.

And I am so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to work. I don’t know.

I have had deep tissue work done before, but it always was more of a slow, deep, hurts-so- good kind of thing. This was more like being put on a high spin cycle.

When we were done, I felt slightly panicky and dizzy and I’m still not sure if it was because reflexology is supposed to release some strange, emotional toxins from one's system or if it was because I just felt like I’d survived a beating. Or maybe it was the knowledge that if I had just listened to my little inner voice, I could have avoided the whole unpleasantness. ☺ Either way, it wasn’t an experience I am eager to repeat. I’m just hoping all that pain and pummeling will have made a difference somehow. I’m hoping for uber-flexible and relaxed shoulders and arms. Once I can move them again.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Too Smart

I was reading an interview with one of my all time favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, and she said something that really made me sit up and think. In the interview, she said:

Jim [Baen] also once told me, when I was whinging about my books not selling as well as someone else's (a favorite pastime among writers, alas — we are a green-eyed bunch) that my books were "too smart" to be bestsellers. To this day, I don't know if he meant that sincerely, or if it was just a very sly way to get himself off the hook. Like I'm going to argue...?

Isn't that an interesting concept? That if books are too smart or too intellectual, they are simply destined to not be bestsellers.

In a sad way, it makes sense. But it is also somewhat freeing, I guess. If you write smart books and you're beating yourself up because you’re not hitting bestseller lists, perhaps it isn’t you, it’s them

Here’s a link to the whole interview in case you’re a fellow fan.

I also found it very interesting that she found the promotional end of things to be such a chore and was looking forward to giving up some of that.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Revisions Ahoy!

Psst! Psst! Hey you. Yeah, you. Have you got a pair of heavy duty shears I can borrow? Because I need to cut a whopping chunk of words out of this manuscript and my normal cuticle scissors just aren’t up to the task.

Remember how I said I knew my manuscript was too long? Well, I was right about that. Also, I am chagrinned to see that it has a couple of flat spots and bald patches. Nothing life threatening, but those parts definitely need some more grooming.

My biggest task is finding a way to simplify the politics. This, after I’ve already simplified and culled them down seventeen time already. But that wasn’t quite enough. They talked a little bit about this in MADE TO STICK, about how what you know gets in the way sometimes, and as a writer, I find that to be so true. Especially when juggling history and politics and what was real and what was cool and what was interesting. But all that history and politics and even the factual stuff have to serve the story. And by serving it, I don’t mean overwhelming it, which is what it teeters on now.

I’m reminding myself that all those things serve as the scaffolding for the story, the basic framework on which to hang the REAL parts of the story—the characters, their actions, and their feelings. It shouldn’t distract FROM the story by being too overwhelming or visible.

The thing is, the politics of this time were fascinating. Everyone was out to get their ducal neighbor and spies and assassins and treachery and treason and betrayal were the name of the game. Seriously, when you read the history of this time, you couldn’t make half this stuff up, it’s so devious and far-fetched.

But I also think, especially in a YA book, you shouldn’t need genealogy charts and personae dramatis lists to keep track of who’s zooming who.

My biggest chore is going to be unraveling a couple of entire threads and removing others altogether.

Then, I’m going to remove half the twists and turns, and spread the remaining ones out more evenly throughout the whole of the book. Even more importantly, I need to plan them for better dramatic effect. They need to provide plot twists and surprises.

I thought I had done that, but instead, with the politics so complicated, it feels more like I just kind of splatted them all out there in the hope of not confusing anybody, and thus not only included too much, but didn’t use them to their best dramatic advantage.

I also need to get the word count down. I would love to get it down to at least 120,000 words. 110,000 words would make me ecstatic, but I’m not sure that’s reasonable as it would be an 18% cut. However, if I cut 10% and make sure every word that remains carries its dramatic weight, I think it will be okay. We’ll see.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Where Was I?

I’m sorry to drop my big news then disappear for a week. How dare Real Life intrude on my blogging time!

However most of the loose ends and odd details of my life have been beaten back into submission, and I am getting ready to enter the writing cave. Or more accurately, the revision cave. I should have lots of whining insight to share as I get the massive shears out and make ready to cut this puppy down to a more manageable size.

Even better, I face the joy of a clear, pristine, empty calendar—four whole weeks worth.  The thrill of that can scare be described.

I plan to guard it with my life*

One of the absolute joys of this newest sale (and there are many) is that due to the Spring 2012 pub date, I have the luxury of time. Instead of putting my ideas, inspiration, and creative process on a forced march, I can allow them to meander--just a bit. And as we all know, meandering is great for the creative process. 

When it is time to tackle books two and three, the schedule will pick up somewhat, because I do not have those books written yet. I do, however, have good solid knowledge of their basic plots and the main characters’ motivations, as well as the fact that I will have established many of the ground rules and political framework in the first book. Even so there will definitely be plenty of opportunity for forced marches later. ☺

Which is why I won’t be doing NaNo this year. I already know I can meet a deadline and have to often enough that I’m going to give myself the gift of this unrushed revision.

Also, I’ve learned that pounding out a fast, furious draft doesn’t work for me anymore. It did once upon a time, but no longer. The truth is, my process has shifted somewhat. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. But it’s important for me that I accept it.

For all of you who are doing NaNo, I wish you great gobs of luck! However, if you find you hate it or your writing is dreck or it makes you hate writing or any hundred different negatives, then give yourself permission to back off and make the writing time your own.

(On a side note, blogging over at Shrinking Violets about building effective online persona's has made me very aware of my own blogging habits. I'm never sure if it's better to post a quick check in,  or save up for a meatier, more dazzling blog entry. Clearly I settled on the quick check in. This time.)

*About five minutes after typing that I got an email requesting my presence at a local book fair. So other than that, I'm keeping my schedule clear.