Wednesday, April 23

Reviews: Books

What: Euclid's Window
How: Non Fiction
Who: Leonard Mlodinow
When: 2001
Grade: A

This wonderfully chatty book describes the history of Geometry (and related subjects) from Ancient Greece to modern America.

Most people tend to believe the those of a literary bent can't be interested in maths, but for me, it was a real toss up which one I would take to university. It's not infrequently that I wish I'd gone with maths, if I'm honest.

I did maths up to A Level, and I found the Euclidean chapters of the book easy to follow. I think, even if I hadn't, I wouldn't have found it hard to deal with. Mlodinov follows the history of maths thoroughly, showing how each mathematician, philopher and scientist made the next step. I was interested to learn how later zero was invented, or the use of symbols such as + and - came into use, or the invention of graphs.

This easy flow made it much simpler to grasp the non-Euclidean mathematics. It's telegraphed from an early chapter that there are great flaws in Euclid's assumptions, but they can neither be proved nor disproved. After centuries of wrestling with this, different mathematicians make a leap and decide to simply start with different assumptions, and maths suddenly gets weird. And yet, it makes more sense. Euclidean geometry doesn't work when applied to the curve of our planet; non-Euclidean elliptical geomatrey does.

The author uses his family to illustrate examples of various theories, but he does not become bogged done in the equations. The book is not intended as a textbook, nor will it teach you mathematics, but it allows you to grasp the ideas behind complex theories. This is Popular Science, not a degree course, and the familiar stye is singularly appropriate, with cheerful observations about the habits of famous figures and the attitudes of the profession. It shows you why string theory is such a big thing in modern physics without burying you in the how.

I devoured this book, and I've already lent it to a friend. I thoroughly reccommend it to everyone other than physicists or mathematicians!

Sunday, April 20

Rejection 1, Submission 2

Form rejection from Black Static for The Ruined Lady.

I've been struggling to find anywhere that takes ghost stories; most mags that take horror have something rather different in mind. So advice from friends, I'm going to try a few more mainstream markets; after all, The Ruined Lady has only a touch of the supernatural.

Of course, 'mainstream' is a huge and slightly frightening category. I suddenly find myself very grateful towards that copy of Mslexa that I bought; nice little submissions section in the back. I was a little surprised (and disappointed) in how many turned out to be American, since this really isn't a story that'll sell easily to an American market, but the first journal that caught my eyes is, after some deliberation, the one I'm submitting to: Riptide Journal. I'm also buying a copy of volume one, because it looks really good! I've also requested (and will send a cheque for) feedback; I don't mind form rejections, but I'd rather see where I'm going wrong from an industry viewpoint.

Nothing on Asylum or Exoticism yet. I have another day off work tomorrow, so I'll try and make a more contenty post; probably some more book reviews.

Thursday, April 17

Targets and plans

I have an instinctive dislike of anything that tells me how to write. To be honest, I don't like being told how to do anything, unless I've asked. With writing, it's the assumption that you have to do things a certain way to be good at it. To produce enough of it. To be a 'real' writer.

Set aside a certain time each day. Hah. My work schedule is rather too random to arbirtraly donate a certain amount of it to writing.

Always draft by hand. No. I actually type faster than I write, for a start, and I've been writing on a computer since I was about five years old. Writing by hand doesn't make me feel any more connected to my writing.

Give yourself a daily target. Why? All it'll do is make me stop, rather than make me start.

The problem with most of this advice is that it's geared towards people who want to be professional writers. If writing is your job, then most of it's reasonable advice, I suppose, but it presupposes that it's what every amateur author wants to do for a living.

I work in a museum. I love it. I get to play with swords, and dress up as a Victorian, and lurk outside windows and talk about castles. For research, it's just brilliant. I even have time to write. Most of the time, I can't believe people are paying me for it. While it's not a job I plan to keep forever, it's certainly in the right industry for me, and I do want to have a job.

Professional authors work from home; it's fairly obvious. I grew up with a parent who worked from home, for convenience reasons, and it convinced me that I couldn't stand it. I like on time and off time, and I lack the discipline to provide that for myself. I spend all day not working, and feeling guilty about it (too guilty to do anything else productive, like clean), and punish myself by working when there are other things I want to do for pleasure. The only way I could be a professional author would be if I had an office and a boss to keep me motivated.

Writing is my hobby. If it was my job, I don't think I'd enjoy it as much. Writing is something I do to unwind, to amuse myself, and to keep busy. It's not something I ever want to do for a living; I want it to be a counterpoint to my living. And I want to make up my mind when I want to do it. I'm more in the mood to write after a half day at work than I am on a full day, or even a day off. I'm more in the mood to write when it's raining, and when it's dark. I don't like to do it just after I've woken up, or shortly before I go to bed. I like to have a cup of tea to hand.

So, I'm ditching all that patronising, presumptive advice, and making my own plans. Weekly plans.

Edit at least one chapter of Greenhelm a week.

Make at at least one blog post a week (it keeps me thinking about writing).

-Fill at least one page in my notebook a week, preferably not with notes for a blog post, but accept that during school holidays, even that may not be possible (too busy at work, too tired after).

Try and sit at my desk to do at least one of these things.

This means that, within a year, I should have completed the redraft of Greenhelm, started the next book and/or completed a significant chunk of one of my other projects (The Dark is the best one to switch to when Greenhelm starts to melt my brain). I should have written several more short stories, which hopefully will be ready for submission (and my current submissions ready for another round, if necessary). I should have stayed focused.

Also, I should try and schedule more than one day off work at a time at least once a month. Just because it's nice to have the occasional day with absolutely nothing to do, not even buy food or pay bills or clean ovens. Or write, if I don't want to!

Tuesday, April 15

Print Submission

I have sent 'The Ruined Lady' off to Black Static, a horror magazine owned by TTA Press. It's a weird feeling, sending something off in print, rather than by email. The formatting alone makes it look official. Also, the cost. And the fact that I'll know whether they accepted it or not as soon as I receive an evelope addressed in my own handwriting; it all depends on the weight of it now!

Submitting was a little awkward, because TTA's website wasn't actually very helpful, and there isn't a current issue in store at Borders (though I did pick up Myslexia instead, which I'm enjoying). I was trying to find a person to address the submission to, rather than the ubiquitous 'editor'. Luckily, Writer's Market had the details; I wouldn't have discovered Writer's Market if it hadn't been for the fact I'd wanted a copy of Black Static in the first place!

So, I was wandering around Borders with Myslexia in hand, having given up on Black Static, and I figured I'd have a look at the writer's directories, since it'd be good to get a broader idea of what mags are out there that aren't available to me. The directories were all huge, hefty books, with huge, hefty pricetags, and none of them were ordered by genre, which is what I really wanted. I did, however, notice that the Writer's Market 2008 had a note on the cover offering 30 days free trial for their website, so I figured that'd be easier to search, and take up much less space, and I'd rather spend the money registering for that.

If I'd bought the book, I'd actually be pretty annoyed right now, since "30 day free trial" actually means "register for free membership until 2199'. The site is free, and though I can't describe membership as indefinite (1/1/2199 is a definite date) it's certainly not going to run out. Still, it's a really helpful, free, searchable website, with handy features such as 'my directory', to which you can add markets and comment on them. So their marketting needs work, but their site is good, and I thoroughly reccomend it.

I suppose I ought to start working on some more short pieces, now these are all out of my hands. Not that I expect an of my current three to be immediately accepted, but that's no excuse to get lazy in the meantime.

Oh, quick note to people who've added me via a feed (you know, all two of you): you're perfectly welcome to comment on the feed, but bear in mind I won't know if you have, unlike if you comment directly on the blog.

ETA: I'm having such a pout over being a PC person, and not a Mac owner. Narrator, for Macs, is a program that reads your work aloud, in different voices, rates, pitches, inflections, and volumes, so you can set it up to read a short story or play with different voices for each character. The kind of thing that's great for spotting inconsistencies, nonsense and repetiton. Like a writing group, but writing groups don't come in a shiny infty package for use at any time of the day or night, does it?

Sunday, April 13

Reviews: Live Storytelling

I've been meaning to write some reviews on here, and this seems the perfect place to start. I just need to decide on a format...

What: The Twisting Field
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey, Simon Heywood, Shonaleigh and Amy Douglas
When: April 2007
Grade: A-

I love story telling. It's something I've grown up with, and not just at bed time. Professional Storytellers are a rarity, and ought to be treasured, which is why when I saw this advertised last year I knew I had to go.

The Twisting Field is the first part of a trilogy about Lugh Lamfhota, an ancient Irish hero. The storytellers have worked with a variety of sources that recorded Irish oral folk tales from around 1000AD (though the tales themselves are manifestly much older) to create their own myth cycle following Lugh and his destiny, and the sons of Tuirenn. The Twisting Field is the first part of the trilogy they're forging.

Now, hands in the air, I didn't realise that when I went to see them last year. Though the show contained a complete tale, it did end rather abruptly, and I remember not being sure what to think. This first part revolves around the prophecy which state that the enemy of Tuatha De Danand, Balor of the Evil Eye, can only be killed by his grandson. Unfortunately, the Tuatha De Danand (Lugh's people) believe that Balor doesn't even have a child, let alone a grandchild, and the prophecy causes a rift between two clans: the sons of Cainte, who believes that the prophecy is their only hope, and the sons of Tuirenn, who believes Balor should be taken by force. The first part ended with the birth of the prophesied grandchild, Lugh, and his adoption by Manannan of the Sea. You can see why I wasn't expecting it to end there.

Since this was over a year ago, I'm a little fuzzy on the details. I remember the seduction of Ethlin, Balor's daughter, and I remember the three sons of Tuirenn having some sort of farm related misadventure. As the first part of a trilogy, it is setting up a great many different elements, but even taking this into account it is a little incoherent at times. The names are unusual (even by Irish standards), and often quite similar, which can make keeping track of the characters a little difficult. The story of the sons of Tuirenn is a myth that some scholars suspect was added to Lugh's story at a later date, and it does feel quite unconnected, especially at this point.

From a performance perspective, I find it very hard to be objective. The storytelling was superb, and the musical segments were beautiful. Perfectly entwined, the shift from one to the other and back was very natural, as was the shift between storytellers. My only minor complaint is that, when singing, the female voices did not always have the clarity required to understand the words; I have this problem with a lot of female singers, and at least they didn't warble, so it's only a very minor complaint.

So, overall, A-. It wasn't perfect, but it's something so special that to see it done well was amazing, and the minor quibbles were absolutely minor.

What: The Middle Yard
How: Live Storytelling
Who: Nick Hennessey and Simon Heywood
When: April 2008
Grade: A-

This is what's prompted me to make the post; last night's performace of the Middle Yard. This is the second part of the trilogy, and followed Lugh's return to Ireland from his foster father's home, the murder of his birth father by the son's of Tuirenn and their subsequent fates. It also revealed to me that this was a trilogy, and things beganto fall into place. I'd been looking forwards to more storytelling regardless, but knowing that it was a continuation of last year's myth I was very happy, because I'd wanted to know what happened next.

This part of the story was much more coherent and linear. Lugh's appearance is a clear set up for confrontation of the third part; most of this episode is taken up by the sons of Tuirenn. The feud that arose in the first part leads to the death of Cian, Lugh's father, and Lugh learns of the sons' crime, but cannot call them on it before the high king (for reasons I wasn't quite sure of, I'm afraid). The sons know he knows, so they volunteer to do the 'real' murderer's penance, and go to seek the treasures of the kings of the world of Lugh's command.

The performace was split in half, with an interval (the same as the Twisting Field), and the second half began with a rather abrupt change in tone; while the first part was relatively serious, the beginning of the sons' quest was played for comedy. The subject matter makes it quite hard to play it any other way, but it jarred with the previous half, and as the quests became more dramatic, the tone swung back to serious again. As with most trilogies, the end of this second part was quite dark and determined, making the short period of comedy stand out even more.

The other main difference between this and the first part is the loss of both female tellers. While the two men carry it very well, I did miss hearing the female voices. It was of no overall detriment, though, and I know this is just personal preference.

So, this part of the trilogy was an improvement over the first because it was easier to understand and to follow, and it had the benefit of the characters being previously introduced. Both parts of the trilogy could be viewed on their own, though both make mre sense when accepted as one of three. My only complaint is the odd shift in tone, which I think would stand out in the trilogy as a whole, but again, it's a small complaint, so, A-.

Tuesday, April 8


Three shorts currently up for submission:
Asylum (Submitted)
Exoticism (Submitted)
The Ruined Lady (under revision).

Asylum has been submitted to Dark Recesses, and Exoticism is being queried with Down in the Cellar. I've actually got it's status listed as 'submitted', but apparently Cellar's server isn't accepting attachments (I'm not entirely sure whether they're accepting submissions, since they didn't make it clear which December submissions were closed until), so it's being 'queried' instead. I suspect their inbox is just full. I want to revise Ruin a couple more times, then I get to pick someone to send that off to.

Here we go!

Editted: Cellar was having spamfilter issues, so Exoticism is now submitted, and they'll let me know if they receive it. Wonderfully prompt response!

Sunday, April 6

Naming Places

I did naming characters, so this seemed the logical next step.

When it comes to setting a story, I tend to be vague. My two 'real world' projects are both vague in their setting regarding anything more than country. The only project I'd consider naming the setting in details is the much mused-about Roman project, since the settings would be relevant to the plot. When place isn't relevant to plot, especially in any kind of 'real world' setting, I avoid it.

But in Grenhelm, well, that's fantasy. Places need naming. And my attitude to it is much the same as to character names: they have to be realistic (apart from those I made up when I was thirteen and can't bring myself to rename!). While the individual countries have made up fantasy names, the towns and villages have names that wouldn't look odd on a map of England. Well, Southern England.

There are two types of place name: descriptive, and enticing. It's the difference between Iceland and Greenland. You don't tend to find many enticing place names in 'old' countries; they're something associated with exploration and settlement. Most of Europe was settled before it was officially named, so the names tend to be descriptive, which is what I'll be focusing on.

In Britain, there are multiple languags to draw on to compose these names, and in a fantasy world, the same can apply. However, if, in your protagonist's country they speak what is basically English (or the language is 'translated' into English), and other influcing languages aren't immediately recognisable as French or German or Latin or Old Norse, then you need to be careful about using those languages to name places (it's that etymology thing again). You need to stick to recognisable dialectal variations on English words, or you need to use words that your readers will recognise as part of your invented languages.

Since I don't have any invented languages, I've been naming places in a noticeably English way. Famous people, names of local landmarks (usually rivers), combinations of landmarks, type of settlement and geographical positions. There's a lot of variation on spellings, though I've only thrown it about in a few of them.

Prefixes tend to be geographical, so you've got the following:

e- we- su- so- no- nu- nor- etc

You can also preface a place name with North, South, East and West, obviously, as well as other descriptors such as Greater, Lesser, Small, Under, and so on. These usually come into play when there are multiple places with the same name, usually because they're in the same region (so you can have a Greater and Lesser Hillmouth, for example)

Suffixes tend to be geographical landmarks, though it also includes other obvious descriptors, such as the type of settlement (which may no longer be accurate by the time the story begins). This is not an exhasutive list:

-ford -bridge -mouth -port : all river related
-hill -lee/ley/ly/leigh -vale -head -stone -down -cliff : hilly/mountainous regions
-green -field -broad -flat : flat or lowlying areas
-bush -wood -marsh/arsh/ersh/mersh -heath : local ecology
-ton -ville -ham : type of settlement
-bury/bry -home/house : people related

Again, sometimes you find suffixes as separate words; these are usually geographical, and clarify position further, for example, Hillmouth Green. These suffixes are usually recognisable whole words in English (so you wouldn't have Hillmouth Ville, for example).

I'd like to point out that Hillmouth appears to be a nonsense name, since it's fairly improbable that a river would be called the Hill (also, Ville is a fairly french looking word; it represents village, which is more English, but it's a suffix to use carefully). However, our river that this village is at the mouth of might not have been called the Hill, back when our village was named. It might have been the Ill, or the Hile, or something like that. The difference between separate and conjoined prefixes and suffixes is lazy speaking. When creating a place name, it's best to come up with something obvious, and then repeat it until you start mumbling, and see how it sounds. Syllables just fall out (to take a real example: the Guilded Ford is now Guildford, where Ford Prefect claims to be from, and that central d is almost never pronounced).

Pronunciation is tricky; only the writer knows what is intended, and attempts to make it obvious can just baffle people who grew up with a different accent to yourself. My advice is not to bother with anything other than the straight forward.

To run through some place names in Greenhelm (which is the Green 'Helmet' of the island), I've names a couple of rivers the Song and the Let. So there's almost certainly Songmouth and Letmouth, and probably places like Songford, Letbridge, Songmarsh, Letleigh, and Songton, and minor changes (sometimes just in pronunciation) to give Songreen, Sonersh, Lefford and Letham. Trust is rumoured to be buried in a certain area, so the town there is Trusbury. In the empire, you'd expect to find the occasional Kingbry and Queenham. There might be a Wonmarsh and Tomarsh on the border - one side of the marsh and t'other side. Oakley and Yevale would be a valleys of oaks and yews respectively, and Redford would be a crossing through an iron-filled river.

It's so... easy. Of course, some of these names probably already exist, somewhere in the British Isles, in some form. Naming places like this can help solidify geography without a ton of maps (though it's worth mapping a place for your own sake, to make sure you don't end up with Treemouth in the middle of the mountains, for example) and can also give names to fictional places in real world settings. If you want latin or french or spanish names, when you just need to pick some appropriate components and run them through a dictionary; the nice thing about place names is that they don't need to be grammatically correct. The same goes for invented languages, or course.

If you're still absolutely, one hundred percent stuck (or you don't want to name somewhere in England!) then Paperback Writer has a good list of name generators. They're good fun to play with, especially the inn names.

Naming places is something personal, but like naming characters, I think there has to be a certain consistency to it. If every single place as a completely different made up name, they're going to be hard to remember, and they're going to make me wonder why people in this universe are somehow dramatically different to every other culture I've encountered in our universe. If the made up names have some consistency, then I'll start to think they were named by people speaking a slightly different language (York, for example, comes from the Norse name Jorvik thanks to the invading Vikings, and thus would look out of place amongst the Milfords and Brightons of the Anglo-Saxon South East). If elements of that language are still lurking about, even better.

Places were described before they were named, so people could find them. This will be true of anything set in Europe or Asia, and anywhere in Africa, Australasia or America that still has it's native name. It ought to be true of almost every fantasy novel I've ever read, though it hasn't always been, which is a shame.

Thursday, April 3

Naming Characters

Okay, so I'm stealing post ideas from LibraryThing, because the writer-readers group is full of people asking good questions.

For the most part, I try and give characters ordinairy names, often old friends or people I went to school with. No one I know too well, in case they ask questions! Preferably names belonging to multiple people I know. Sometimes, I repeat names of minor characters, especially common names, because that's how real life works. Honestly, it gets a little creepy when there are over a hundred named characters in a series and not one repetition of either fore or surname.

I only have a few charactes with made up names, despite being a fantasy writer; Laina and Vaughniter Fale. 'Vaughniter Fale', as a name, came to me in a dream, which mostly proves that dreams are a bad source of names. 'Laina', despite a change in naming philosophy since I named the character, is going to stay, but the rest of the family will have equally unusual (bu real) names. Consistency in naming, I feel, is important.

I deliberately avoid giving characters 'meaningful' names; I want my readers to decide based on my writing, not my naming, whether characters have certain traits. Much as I love latin, and etmology in general, name meanings are hard to do tactfully enough not to annoy bright readers; if Dolores is depressed, I'm going to be annoyed with the author for showing off. The same goes for names with certain connotations, especially historical names. Is Alexander a bit of a conquerer? A redhaired, left handed, bisexual conquerer? Do I want to slap some subtlty into you?

Having said this, I have stuck myself with a family in which all of the characters have 'virtue' names. It's actually an improvement on Arthurian names (in the above paragraph, I am very much speaking from experience), which were chosen based on Bernard Cornwell's characterisation in his Arthurian series. I changed this, but it was important to me to choose a series of names with consistency; it's a family to which lineage is very important. That I chose virtues was almost artibtrary; an ancestor of the family was called Trust, and it seemed like a good place to start. The difficulty was in choosing names that neither reflected nor rejected their personalities; I've gone for fairly generic traits. It turns out, masculine virtue names are hard to come by in English speaking countries, and once I'd used Earnest and Valiant (thank you Oscar Wilde and terrible 80s Arthurian cartoons) I had to make up another for my main character.

It was Diligent, in the end. Positive, but not predictive.

I've also been naming characters in another project after fantasy heroines. I started out with traditional and literary characters, but that's overused, so any fantasy film in the last twenty years is being explored. Badly. I'm probably going to change my mind about this (as I have done every time I've started a new draft of this story - two different sisters have been named Lucy and I can no longer remember which I'm refering to without the story to refer to).

In my pulpy projecy I made a point of giving the characters fairly cheesy names, to suit the tone of the story. Honey Smith and Dirk Miles; the names make me happy. They aren't going to get changed, not unless there's a real Honey Smith or Dirk Miles who've done something massively famous that I've managed to miss. That has happened to me before; it's always worth googling names, just in case.


Thanks to my lovely co-host, SignificantKinks is back online. It's absence was apparently blogger's fault; the present of blogger in the 'allow hotlinks' (which I'd done in the hopw it'd sort the ftp issues) list caused the problem. Anyway, darling person fixed it, after I'd tried deleting the whole site and the subdomain and reuploading both.

I'm keping my blog on blogspot for now; though I'd love to reimbed it, I don't think it's worth doing until I find something a little more reliable. Or learn enough PHP to unstand what cutenews is on about.

Tuesday, April 1

Tenses and Voice

I've been chatting to kvtaylor about some pieces I intend to submit soon, and we've been exploring tenses. It's a very interesting discussion, and I thought I'd expand on it here.

For clarification before we being: 'past' refers to imperfect, perfect, pluperfect and the rest, for example, and 'first', 'second' and 'third' person can be singular or plural.

Now, as the monologues I wrote for my degree reveal, I like to play with voice as much as tense. Unusual combinations of the two, and so on. Of course, they're all quite short (the limit for the three combined was 5000 words, which naturally kept them brief). Tense is interesting to experiment with in short pieces, but in long the unfamiliarity of certain combinations can create an unintended challenge for the reader.

For example, when it comes to the Present tense (Third Person limited) in longer fiction, I've tried it in something about 20,000 words long, and it's tiring to read (which, in that, is deliberate, considering the point of view). It's not something I'd try in a novel or novella without a very definite reason before beginning. In something novel length it'd have to be a bit Joycian. This is a shame, because if readers and writers could grow more accustomed to it, it could be well employed in stories requiring suspense, especially when it's first person.

First Person Past is a combination that I struggle to enjoy. It often destroys suspension of disbelief. Memoirs of a Geisha brought this to my attention during my teens, with the protagonist's ability to remember conversations that happened decades ago word for word. Now I can't help but notice it. It's more bearable in something like a detective story, or perhaps speculative fiction, where the disbelief is suspended rather higher, but it's still painful. If you've chosen first person past, there are some sacrifices you have to make, and dialogue is invariably one of them.

Some tenses suit voices better than others. First Person Future is just surreal. First Person Past, as mentioned, has its issues. First Person and Present Tense slot together in much the same way as Third and Past (though that's a combintion of convenience and familiarity). Second Person and Future works, but it's noticeably pretentious, and not something I'd do often. Second Person Present (and imperative, as second person present is wont to be) also works, but I suspect Second Person Past would, again, crush any suspension of disbelief. After all, the reader knows that they didn't experience what you described.

Second is probably the most engaging voice, and I do enjoy it, but it's always a conscious decision. First allows for the most identification (it's best used when playing with characters one would not immediately identify with, in order to make the reader question themself), but is often abused. Third can be used for anything; and paired with any tense.

Present is good for suspense, and can raise interesting questions about reliability, too. Past is so often used due to familiarity, without any thought of reliability or identification or voice, which is a shame. Future dares people, but is usually abused in deliberate pretention - like second, it's best used sparingly (Stephen King and Peter Straub use both well in brief segments of Black House, as I recall). All three tenses, though, are flexible in intention: you can use them to create intimacy or distance depending on how you pair them with voices.

I'm glad I wrote the three monologues, to deliberately play with tense and voice combinations, and I'll probably do some more chopping and changing in future pieces to see if I can make certain combinations work. Otherwise, I must admit, tense is usually instinctive for me - it is only on very rare occasions that I make a conscious decision, such as when I've used the future. Voice defaults (I'm almost ashamed to admit) to third, though some pieces have a reason to be in first (like Unsent Letters, being a kind of epistle itself). Second tends to come on me by surprise, but it is fun to write.

- I'm having real trouble posting this. Blogger tells me it's there, but also tells me it's still loading, while on the blog itself sometimes it appears and sometimes it doesn't. Le Sigh.