Thursday, September 9, 2010
Here's another link found while blog hopping the other day, all about what makes Taylor Swift such a great artist. Interesting comments, and in general I tend to agree. Plus the post got me thinking about some of the relationships in my own stories. Worth checking out if you're into such things.
Friday, September 3, 2010
As I mentioned a few days ago, one of my instructors at the ArmadilloCon workshop was Rosemary Clement-Moore. I had read one of her books already last year and was excited about being in her group. She very kindly spent some time chatting with me outside of the workshop as well, and I discovered that not only does she have really good writing advice, she's also brilliantly hilarious. In fact, she could probably host her own tv show, but then she wouldn't be writing books any more, and that would be our loss... because her books are fantastic!
I picked up her most recent book, The Splendor Falls, at the con and read it on the flight home from Texas. The title is based on a Tennyson poem, which I read after finishing the book and found to be wonderfully appropriate, so be sure to look up the poem in conjunction with the book.
The story is about a girl named Sylvie who gets shipped off to Alabama after a broken leg ends her dancing career. She finds herself in an old house, rich with her family's history... and with the lingering echoes of her ancestors. Then she starts seeing things, things that shouldn't be there.
The Splendor Falls is one of those rare books that I truly enjoyed being in, instead of feeling the need to rush through. The difference between other books and The Splendor Falls is sort of like the difference between taking a quick shower and luxuriating in the bath; the former is about the end goal and the latter is about the experience. I loved the experience of this book.
One of its greatest strengths is its capital-A Atmosphere. The setting is so real, the history vibrant. I had no trouble believing I was stuck in Nowhere, Alabama. The house, the town and the surrounding landmarks were all easy to picture. And the Civil War era family was infused into the pages of the book, in every detail from the scent of lilac to the apron strings disappearing around the corner.
I loved that this was a ghost story with the feel of magic, not the feel of keep-the-lights-turned-on horror. True, Sylvie got creeped out a few times (as would anyone), but my own reaction was the thrill of well-designed magic, not the chill of terror. I got drawn in and lost myself in the fantasy.
And part of what set the compelling tone of the book was the romance. I found myself cheering on Sylvie's love life from the very start. Every page had just the right amount of tension, and the ending was so very rewarding.
All in all I think this story may become a classic for me, one I return to when I start feeling the need to escape. So thanks for such a great read, Rosemary!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I went to quite a few panels at ArmadilloCon, but a few in particular stand out in memory.
The opening question on the technology panel was this: since science is hard to get right consistently in our books, can we tell an interesting story while still following the dictates of science? Will readers stick with a story that isn't completely accurate?
Nancy Kress, who was moderating the panel (and is very well-spoken), had an insightful comment: there is a spectrum of stories, all the way from hard sci fi on one side to whimsical fantasy on the other. Readers and writers both have comfort zones along that spectrum. What's important is to recognize where your story belongs on the spectrum and write it accordingly.
Another panelist (Adrian Simmons I believe), said that more important than accuracy in the details is understanding the rules and implications of the technologies that appear in the story. When coming up with a new technology, always ask “What other uses could this technology be put to?” Then think about what can go wrong. Stories are all about messes that need to be fixed.
CITY AS A CHARACTER
I went to a similar panel last year, but I still got a lot out of this one. Cities are a large part of world-building, whether they are real cities or not. All cities have their own unique atmosphere, and the characters in a story should feel that atmosphere.
One of the major points on the panel was the fact that cities aren't built in a day—they grow and develop; structures come down or are buried under other structures; styles change. When describing a city we must give the impression that the city has existed for years and will continue to exist into the future.
The comment that really stood out to me was that the writer should know the city well enough that the reader feels like the city is truly built of stone and mortar, not cardboard props. The reader should believe that if the character happened to take a wrong turn down an alley, the alley wouldn't contain wooden set pieces but a whole new living, breathing scene.
I was excited about this panel since it deals directly with an important aspect of my current project. Unfortunately I was so caught up in the discussion that I didn't take very good notes, but I here's some of what I remember:
The panelists brought up several important aspects of mythology: the usefulness of mythology to explain natural, cultural and psychological phenomena; the importance of mythology for passing along the morals of a society; the archetypes that show up in mythology and that resonate with us still today.
Several of the panelists felt strongly that writers should at least be very familiar with the myths that their stories are based in. Some stories based on mythology ignore the culture of the myths and leave out important details. Sometimes writers will use mythological characters as props instead of fleshing out real people.
After attending the panel I feel very motivated to get back into working on my own mythology-inspired novel.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
One of the best aspects of ArmadilloCon was the friendliness of all the people. Writing is a pretty solitary endeavor, so getting out to talk writing with other people is a bit of a high for me. Everyone I spoke to was super enthusiastic—I felt right at home among them.
The people I was most looking forward to seeing were the other three people in my critique group who came to the con, and in that respect the weekend most certainly did not disappoint. We had a wonderful time going out to dinner on Friday night and spending time catching up at other moments as well. Ico, Kendra and Steve—you guys are great!
I was also excited about catching up with Patrice Sarath, who was one of my instructors last year. I've read her two books (Gordath Wood and Red Gold Bridge) over the past year, and I'm really hoping to see more of her writing soon, particularly after going to her reading on Sunday.
I met some fascinating new people this year. Katharine Beutner was on the Mythology panel on Sunday morning, and she was kind enough to spend the hour after the panel chatting with me about her book, Alcestis, and about some of the mythology I'm using in my writing.
I also got a chance to meet Anne Sowards, senior editor at Ace/Roc, who, in addition to being a very interesting person to talk to and working with awesome people like Jim Butcher and Steven Boyett, also wins the award for best accessory at the con—her purse made of seat belts was seriously fun. (Unfortunately my picture of it doesn't quite do it justice.)
Runner up for cool accessories would have to be Julie Kenner with her cute purple glasses and soda tab bracelet. I met Julie last year and was flattered to find that she remembered me. I read her YA Good Ghouls books after meeting her at the last con and really enjoyed them.
And finally (for this post, though there were quite a lot of other people I met and really enjoyed spending time with), I chatted a bit with Stina Leicht. I'm a little in awe of Stina and all the hard work she puts into making the workshop happen. I've said it before, but I can't say it too many times: thank you so much for what you do, Stina! And congratulations on selling your book!