Monday, March 31, 2008

Can't Backspace

As a follow up to my last post, I came on Can't Backspace which is a handwritten blog.

I wonder how many people write by hand these days? I find it much harder now to write by hand at all I've got so used to the convenience of typing. I really love being able to cut and paste without using scissors or glue, especially as I can remember the days when both of those were needed to redraft a document.

I wonder if we write differently when we use pen and paper?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Keyboard Blues

Today is my birthday and I've got a new computer chair and a keyboard. I tried out all the keyboards at our local computer fair and finally chose the flexible, washable one because I liked the feel of the keys better than with the conventional ones.

Now I'm using it and it's not quite as expected. I have to thump the keys to get them to register - the exact opposite of the effect I was hoping for. If you see a space missing it's because I don't always notice that the space bar hasn't registered. I had trouble with the space bar on my old keyboard and now I'm thinking maybe it was me not the keyboard. It was a present despite my choosing it so I can't easily change back, or not straight away anyway. It's making writing much harder but I wonder if I'll get used to it.

I wonder if writing using different media to write results in different content. What do you think?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bedtime Stories

I'm guessing that anyone who has children has at some time told them bedtime stories and I was no different when my boys were young. I do wonder though what kind of training that gives us if we later want to get into professional fiction writing.

I'll take my own stories as an example. It was bedtime, my sons needed settling down and I didn't want them to have bad dreams. So I told them stories about the Tooth Fairy and her wonderful castle. I had memories of Enid Blyton stories as I spun a tale about my two boys visiting a wonderful land and having feasts of sausages and jelly and ice cream.

There was no tension, no plot and not even any very funny jokes: I didn't want to get them all stirred up before sleeping. (My Beloved had other ideas and used leave them rolling with laughter at tales of Humphrey Wobblebottom but that is another story altogether.) My stories were guaranteed to have the listeners dropping off to sleep. What kind of a preparation is that for fiction writing?

Operatic interlude concluded

Carmen was all that I hoped it would be and it's washed the nasty taste of the ENO version from my mouth. We were right up in the gods, which gave us a good view of the staging. It was very well done: lighting, singing, sets, animals. Yes, there were live animals involved: a donkey, a chicken and a horse. It was a spectacular performance and well worth going to see.

Normal service is now restored and I'll get back to writing about books.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Operatic interlude

Tomorrow is my husband's birthday and we're going to see Carmen. I saw my first live opera when I was in Venice a couple of years ago. It was in a hall the size of a school gym and we sat on uncomfortable folding chairs. The cast of six was wonderful and there was an intimacy that you just don't get in a bigger theatre. I was hooked.

We saw Carmen at the ENO more recently and I was deeply disappointed. It was staged for an audience of aficionados who did not need to be able to follow the plot. I only found out what was happening when I got home and read up about it. I'm hoping that tomorrow's performance at Covent Garden will have all the colour and passion that I'd expect.

We're going with friends that we haven't seen for a long time and they're arriving during the day tomorrow. So I'm not expecting to be posting. Don't go away, though, because I'll be back.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Will Write for Chocolate

Will Write for Chocolate is always funny, just starting with the title itself. This one caught my attention as it landed in my RSS reader today. If you haven't checked out the website, then do!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

High Tech Storytelling

The 21 Steps is an experiment in telling stories using Google maps. At each location in the story a Google flag appears with an information panel giving the next part of the story. The reader clicks on the panel to move the story on.

It's intriguing to watch the journey as the narrator travels around London and further afield. Sometimes the journey drags a little and it isn't the best story I've ever read. It's more like the plot for a point-and-click adventure game. The medium is innovative and Six to Start have got more stories planned, using different media.

I love all forms of storytelling including adventure games. The Longest Journey and The Dig are personal favourites and they are basically interactive stories.

I can't see electronic technology taking over from the basic paperback book. It fits in a handbag, it's silent and you can take it anywhere. Unless epaper really takes off and we have epaperbacks to sling into our pockets.

Banned Books

When I was a kid, I read Lady Chatterley's Lover. Well, not all of it. Just the 'dirty bits'. I wasn't particularly impressed and it didn't inspire in me a life-long love of D.H. Lawrence.

I think it illustrates a point though. People are more interested in works that are forbidden. So when something is censored it becomes more desirable.

Does that mean that we should forbid anyone under 18 to read Shakespeare, on the basis that we'll have hosts of youngsters with fake IDs trying to get hold of plays by the bard? Maybe not, although the idea has a certain appeal.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Writer's block

Some days I just don't feel like writing. I don't want to get on with whatever story I'm writing because I know it's bad, I'm not sure what to write next and I'll just mess it up if I try.

Then I found Writer's Resources by Timothy Hallinan:
The enemy is not the badly written page; it is the empty page.

If there’s one rule you should write on a card and tape over your desk, this is it. A bad page does a lot of good things: it advances the story, it gives you a chance to work with your characters, it demands that you write all or part of a scene, it challenges you to describe your setting – on and on and on. (It even makes the stack of pages look a little thicker, which can give you a psychological lift.) So what if it does some of these things badly? You’ve learned one way not to handle that particular piece of material.

But the great advantage of a badly written page is that it can be rewritten. It can be improved. A blank page is zero. In fact, it’s worse than zero, because it represents territory you’re afraid, unwilling, or too lazy to explore. Avoid exploring this territory long enough, and you’ll abandon your book.

You'll have to excuse me now. I need to get back to writing my story.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Better than a dictionary

I've just Stumbled Upon Visuwords, which is an online graphical dictionary/thesaurus. I was using the Visual Thesaurus previously but you have to pay if you want to do more than a few searches, and as it is very much based on US usage I wasn't keen to do that. But Visuwords looks like a very useful tool.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lost in Translation

One book I love is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince. The beginning and the end are sheer beauty. I think part of the attraction for me is that, being a child's book, I can manage the French. I don't enjoy reading it in English in quite the same way, although I have to admit it's easier for me. There are parts where the translation just doesn't cut it. Take:
On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Wikiquote offers a number of English translation but they all come up short.
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

one sees well only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes.

The essential things in life are seen not with the eyes, but with the heart.

My preferred translation would be rather a loose one:
You can only really see with the heart. What matters most is hidden from the eye.

World Water Day

Apparently, today is World Water Day. You can check your own hydration levels on the website if you're so inclined. I need to drink approximately double what I thought I did. Bugger.

On This Day

Today is Easter Saturday, the sky is cloudy, my bones are aching and I'm feeling devoid of inspiration. So I decided to look around the internet and find out what's special about today.

Today in history:
1956: King convicted for bus boycott
Civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, has been convicted of organising an illegal boycott by black passengers of buses in the US state of Alabama.
from On This Day

I was two years old at the time. I can remember growing up in a world where there was a definite hierarchy and black people and women were somewhere near the bottom. I have a feeling that it wasn't as difficult for black people here as it was in the US but it was bad enough.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Getting critiques

My science fiction opening chapter is up for review at Critique Circle and I'm realising how hard it is to avoid an info dump and yet to convey information. No one has realised that my Main Character is female and everyone makes the assumption that she is male. Clearly that says a lot about the default setting in our society but sadly it also tells me that my writing skills are not as honed as I'd hoped for. How do I keep the first person voice, but tell the world that I'm a she? In real life I don't often find the need to do that.

Back to the drawing board. I do like getting critiques, though. It matters a lot to me to know how my writing comes across to an audience.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Word of the Year 2007 was "w00t"

Not exactly breaking news, I know, but I found this on The Quirky World of Jessi and couldn't resist posting it. Jessi says
It shows you just how much the English language has changed over the years, but especially since technology has become such a large influence in our lives.

Her site is well worth a visit.

Warning: strong language

I've recently seen reference to "the f-bomb" on Critique Circle Forums. I made me think about strong language and what we choose to censor.

When I told my mother I had edited my first draft of a story for her to read, taking out "all the 'f' words", she said, "If I worried about that I wouldn't read anything these days." Yet she hates strong language in conversation.

What puzzles me is the inconsistency. Sometimes on television a character will say "fuck" and it's allowed to be broadcast. Yet a recent trailer for The Colour of Magic had the word "bastard" censored, which to me is a less strong word. Americans seem to use the word "asshole" a lot but to bowdlerise profanity. In the UK, most people see "damn", "hell" and "bitch" as not swearing at all.

I have a high tolerance for strong language but I worry that I will offend other people. In writing fiction, the trick seems to be to write in the voice of one of the characters and use the language he or she would use. Nick Hornby uses this to good effect in A Long Way Down, where the characters each have their own voice and the choice between "fuck" and "f-" depends on which character is currently narrating.

Maybe I want it to be simple when it isn't. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Comics for Cats

I liked this variation on Stuff on My Cat. Cats always seem to want to sit on whatever you're reading so the obvious answer is to give them a book of their own.

I wonder if he'd be interested in reading All I Need To Know I Learnt From My Cat. Do you have any other suggestions for books cats might like to read?


Taken from the Unshelved Archives. This is a series of cartoons about the characters in a library. It's well worth going back to the first one and reading all the way through, to see how the characters develop.

I chose my favourite of all the strips to display here although the one where the librarian is persuaded to to say the magic words "pimp my bookcart" was another high spot. I'm now following the story on my Google Reader. I never knew that working in a library could be so much fun.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New science fiction book

Tanya Huff has got a new sci-fi book out The Heart of Valor, available in the US here. It's the third in a series of military science fiction books and I thoroughly enjoyed both the other two: Valor's Choice and Valor's Trial. Sadly the paperback isn't going to be available till June, and doesn't seem to be available in the US at all. I'd rather wait till it comes out as I prefer reading paperbacks, they're easier to hold and you can take them anywhere.

More people may be aware of Huff through her Blood series. I'm currently re-reading Blood Trail . It's pleasant, escapist fiction about vampires and werewolves. She's also written a lot of fantasy books.

I first found Tanya Huff's work through GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources. It's a good place to go to get hold of some new authors and to read reviews.

A Room of My Own

I never thought I would have a library of my very own. This is the landing in our new house. Although I have to share it with the rest of the family, it feels like having my very own library. The only downside is that we don't have any bookshelves in the living room now, which feels very strange.

I remember seeing Beauty and the Beast by Walt Disney. The Beast woos Beauty not with flowers or chocolates but by giving her a library of her very own. Now that's the kind of guy I could fall for.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Put your coffee cup down now

Browsing the archives at Evil Editor I came across a post about brevity in query letters.
Among the greatest plot distillers in literary history was the guy who determined that only one m needed to be stamped on the side of an m & m. Janice Delaney's legendary query for her history of menstruation, entitled The Curse, consisted of a blank sheet of paper with a period in the center. (This used half as much ink as the previous record, the query for Dr. Jensen's Guide to Better Bowel Care, which was, of course, a colon.)

I take no responsibility for ruined keyboards: the warning was in the title.

As An Alligator

I saw As An Alligator online some time ago and now the author has made it possible to order direct for delivery to the UK. My copy came today and it is even more delightful in real life than it is online. Deanna Molinor kindly agreed to sign it to my sister and has included an alligator in the signature. Her whole site is worth a look and I was very taken with another book of hers: That Story About the Rabbit, which is definitely not a children's story.

Some time later

I've realised that I intended to publish some of the ramblings of Professor Jerome Q Pangbourn, who later became Jeremy Hart in my November novelette. Then I re-read what I'd written. It's amazing the clarity lent to my reading of the text by the length of time since I wrote it. It makes me wonder what I'll think of my current writing when I get enough distance from it to judge it.

Deus Ex Machina

Evil Editor
I found Evil Editor's blog and I think I'm hooked. He offers advice to struggling writers on query letters and there's a whole community of his Evil Minions.

He also offers writing exercises, and I had a go at the latest one: to write a short (300 word) story with a Deus Ex Machina. So here it is:

Jason braced himself against a bulkhead and wrenched at the lever but it was stuck. He looked across at Emily imploringly and she added her strength. Her biceps bulged but the lever stood firm and the door remained firmly closed. Water swirled around their ankles. It was rising fast and would reach the ceiling in less than a minute.

Jason clutched at Emily. "We're going to die!"

She held him in her arms and gazed into his eyes. "There's only one thing we can do."

She reached into her enormous handbag and pulled out a can of WD40. One squirt and the lever came free. They opened the door and scrambled through, then pushed the door shut against the weight of the water.

Now the lever was hanging loose and they could not get the door to stay shut. Water poured through and Jason was shivering with cold and shock.

"If we don't stop the water coming through we're dead," he said.

"Don't panic." Emily reached into her bag and brought out a huge reel of duct tape, then bit off a long strip and handed it to Jason. Between them, they taped the door shut and the flow of water ceased. They slumped down against the sealed door to await rescue.

"How come you had the right stuff in your bag?" Jason asked.

"Everyone knows," Emily replied. "If it doesn't move and it should, you use WD40, and if it moves and it shouldn't, you use duct tape."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Under the bed

I'm writing a third novelette at the moment: this time it's science fiction again. I've decided that plotting a story before I start it is probably a good idea. A lot of writers seem to have worked this out a long time ago but I can be a bit slow at times.

I now have two "under the bed" novels, following the advice of the great Miss Snark and I suspect this new one will be the third. I have learnt so much, though, from the process. I think this is the first novelette I will have written that was not poured out during Nanowrimo. I don't know if that will make this one better, worse or simply unfinished.

I'm still trying to edit my last November's offering. Realising that the plot didn't make a lot of sense was a bit of a downer but the story does have some redeeming qualities. I think. I'm grateful to my friends at Critique Circle for helping me to try to make it a bit less abysmal.
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