Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I tried out a new recipe for chocolate zucchini bread today.  Most of the cooking will happen tomorrow, but I wanted to finish this much today.  I haven't sampled it yet, but it smells amazing!  So excited about tomorrow.  Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Editing: Beginnings and Endings

Due to a killer cold last week, I was too loopy to get any good editing done. I've been hoping to have draft two done by Christmas, so I'm going to have to work a little harder now to make that happen. Still doable I think.

Right now I'm struggling through the two hardest parts of the book: the beginning and the end. Anything can happen in the middle of a book. That's where all the freedom lies. But the first and last chapters don't have that flexibility. The first chapter has to introduce characters and setting and enough back story to ground the reader (but not too much!), and above all it has to kick start the plot in an exciting enough way to make sure the reader won't put the book down. The ending has to tie up all the characters and plot points and come to a satisfying conclusion.

At the moment I have the second half of chapter one, but no first half. This morning I had two endings, neither of them quite right.

The rest of the draft is in relatively good shape. There are a few overall sorts of edits I need to take care of: once through to address a broad critique from ArmadilloCon, and once through to cut out as many unnecessary words as possible.

But today I wanted to focus on that pesky ending. It was time to write ending number three, and I was really hoping that the third time would be the charm.

I think it was. I spent all afternoon wrestling with it, but I think I've gotten the ending I want. At least for this draft!

Not bad for a Monday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter Tribute

Hey everyone. You know what today is? It's HARRY POTTER DAY! I'm soooo excited about the movie coming out. I've heard so many great things. Can't wait to go see it myself!

So today, instead of my usual Friday book recommendations, I'll be doing a tribute post to Harry Potter, or more specifically to three characters Harry could not have done without.

I'm not going with the obvious choices of Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore. Of course Harry needed his best friends and his mentor, but I wanted to talk about three others who, while not appearing on every page, were nevertheless vital to Harry's ultimate success.

Molly Weasley

Mrs. Weasley's virtues are numerous and transparent. She treats Harry as her own son: she feeds him, watches over him, stands by him through the darkest trials. Without her Harry might never have known what a real family should look like. Without her Harry wouldn't even have found the train to Hogwarts in the first place.

But I think the full extent of her influence is more subtle than that. While Mrs. Weasley is giving Harry everything he has been missing in his life on a personal level, she is doing something deeper on a story level: she's showing Harry what it is he's fighting for. That can't be overstated. A hero needs a constant reminder of what he is fighting to save. I think Mrs. Weasley fits that role. She is everything that is right and good in the wizarding world.

Just try to imagine Harry Potter without Mrs. Weasley. There were several times throughout the series when Harry got fed up and could easily have said, “That's it! I quit!” He never did, but I think he might have if he hadn't had a good reason to keep going, if he hadn't had one thing he could point to and say, “I'd rather die than lose that.” And I think that thing he was pointing to was the home that Mrs. Weasley provided.

Neville Longbottom

I don't think I've ever met anyone who disliked Neville. It would be impossible for me not to root for the guy. He's the underdog in all of us, and yet he is able to be the kind of hero that we wish we could be. His moment of triumph at the end of the seventh book (which, incidentally, was a vital step to Harry's ultimate success) was completely satisfying.

But enough about my own admiration for Neville; what about his role in Harry's story? I think that just as Mrs. Weasley gives Harry something to fight for, Neville gives Harry someone who will fight for him. But what about Ron and Hermione? you might say. What about Sirius? Yes, of course they fought for him... out of love. But Harry didn't have the same kind of relationship with Neville. They were friends, but Neville wasn't the person Harry told all of his secrets to. Neville didn't always know the whys or the hows, yet he was consistently loyal to Harry's cause.

I think a hero needs people who will believe in him, not just because they love him but because they believe he is fighting the right fight. A hero needs followers. People like Neville remind heroes like Harry that morality is at stake. Without that kind of reminder, Harry's moral compass might have gotten irreparably bent along the way.

Severus Snape

And now for the man we love to hate. Snape is one of JK Rowling's very best characters. He has so many layers, all hidden beneath that greasy exterior. I imagine each person has his or her own unique reaction to Snape, depending on the ways his complexity intersects our own personal complexity. He is truly a character worth reading.

And he is necessary to Harry's victory for multiple reasons. Certainly Harry would not have come through the final book without Snape's interference. He provided precisely what Harry needed in order to make the right decisions.

But his influence throughout the series was far broader than that. He provided Harry with a tangible villain. Voldemort is a fantastic absolute villain with a lot of his own complexities, but he's absent for so much of the story. Without another villain to fixate on, Harry might not have had the motivation to be better or fight harder. As long as Snape was in the picture, Harry couldn't forget that there was an enemy he must eventually face. Without that constant push, I don't think Harry could have been the hero he needed to be.

So those are my three picks for vital characters Harry couldn't have achieved victory without. What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

And now I can't wait to get to the movie! I'll be wearing my black and yellow scarf! Woo!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Life of an Amateur Composer

Good afternoon Blogeers and Blogettes! How are you all?

We've had a string of lovely days here—very few clouds, which means lots of energy for me. And a lot of that energy has gone into making music... the topic of today's post.

I believe I've mentioned before that I've been composing music for an indie video game. The theme for the game is “space cows” (a play on the ubiquitous “space cowboy”), so the music was supposed to be “space western.” Well, the space part kind of got cut, but I've managed to keep the western part pretty much in tact.

Now I am by no means a professional composer, but the music I put together is good enough to put in the game, and I'm having fun with it... and learning a lot.

The hardest part is writing battle music. I kept thinking I'd gotten a good tempo with lots of punch, only to be told over and over that it's too slow and ho-hum. Now maybe that's because the majority of my musical experience involved playing clarinet in band and orchestra. It's not quite the same thing as saving the world with a rousing battle tune.

What about you? Have any of you ever tried to write battle music?

Well, I knew I had to find some inspirations. I needed to keep the western style, and I needed it to be fast and exciting. So I set about trying to merge music along the lines of Megaman with something like, well, this:

See the challenge? In fact, if you're looking for something to do on a rainy day (and you happen to have some sort of music composition software—I use Finale PrintMusic), try your hand at combining the two.

I think I've managed to come up with some passable pieces. (Along the way I gathered a few pointers from listening to the instrumental version of Lady Gaga's Poker Face, of all things.) It's been fun.

Though I am looking forward to doing something besides western music for the next game. As much as I've grown to love the banjo over the past few weeks, I'm ready for a change.

And how are all of you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Recommendation: The Iron King

Meghan Chase was six years old when she watched her father disappear. Now ten years later her brother goes missing as well, and this time she's determined to get him back. She follows her brother into the Nevernever, the world of the faeries, bringing her best friend Robbie along with her. But surprises wait for her there: not only is she half faery herself, but she has been lured to the Nevernever to play an important role in the upheaval of the faery courts. To save her brother she must survive the perils of the faery world, while juggling the affections of both her best friend and icy prince Ash... who might just as soon kill her as kiss her.

I first became aware of The Iron King when I saw Patrice Sarath's recommendation of it. I was intrigued and put it high on my to-read list. Recently I had the chance to dive into it.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Julie Kagawa delivers an exciting plot and interesting characters. Meghan is strong-willed, passionate and loyal. Robbie and Ash are great foils for each other: Robbie is easy-going, Ash smoulders; both are steadfast, though their devotion shows itself differently in each.

But my favorite character is probably Grimalkin, the Cait Sith. Grim embodies all the things I love about Julie Kagawa's faery world: he's mysterious, potentially dangerous and definitely devious. (He's also so very feline, and being a cat lover I couldn't help but like him.) In the Nevernever actions have consequences, and bargains come with a heavy price. Grim is a master at bargaining to his own advantage, and something tells me that Grim's intricate plots will play a key role in the next book...

Because the story isn't over. The sequel, The Iron Daughter, came out in August, and now that I've read the first book I am itching to snatch up the second. If it's even half as good as The Iron King I know I'll love it.

And on a side note, the cover is lovely.

Now go read!