Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April:3, Lianna:0

You win again, April.

I did manage to do a full scene workup yesterday. But my brain is like a caffeinated hamster scrabbling around inside my skull right now. I can't seem to get out of crisis-mode. I had scads of time to write today, but I spent all of it trying to chill the fuck out.

Related aside, to be filed under "weird things about me": you know what I enjoy waaaaaay more than I should? Reading ranty book reviews. In my chill-the-fuck-out attempts, I've been watching a lot of movies of the PG-13 summer blockbuster oeuvre, but it turns out I should have been reading mercilessly sardonic reviews of poorly written books instead.

I don't know what it is about them-- you'd think that, as an aspiring novelist, I'd be horrified to see an author's work savaged until it limps away clutching its genitals, but it cracks my shit up. And the effect is cumulative: the more ranty reviews I read, the funnier they become, until I am cackling like a crazy person with tears rolling down my cheeks. I know I'm setting myself up for all kinds of horrible future review karma by enjoying them so much, but right now I don't care, because after working my way through all the 1, 2, and 3 reviews at Books I Done Read, I feel like I spent the afternoon getting a pedicure and sipping on a drink with a little pink umbrella.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 7

The seventh book I've read for my shelf-sitter reading challenge is Unearthing Atlantis: An Archaeological Odyssey by Charles Pellegrino. The Parent gave me this book years ago; she's spent her retirement thus far taking classes at Harvard on the Roman and Egyptian empires, so it's fair to classify her as a bit of an ancient history buff. I'm more of a fair-weather history friend: I love it as long as it doesn't make me work too hard. This book was on the verge of making me work too hard.

Pellegrino uses the lenses of history, archaeology, paleontology, geology, and even theology, to examine the volcanic eruption in 1600 BCE of the Greek island now known as Thera (which means "fear"). Thera was the center of the mysterious and impressive Minoan civilization (dude, they had flush toilets!), and is almost certainly the basis for the story of Atlantis. Along the way, he discusses everything from deep sea exploration to the extinction of the dinosaurs to the biblical story of Moses.

I would describe this as popular science crossed with LitFic. Pellegrino takes an experimental, non-linear approach to his subject, jumping around in time and between academic disciplines to tell the story of Thera. It was an interesting book, but I couldn't read more than 30 or so pages at a time without needing a break from it. And by the end, I felt like he was repeating himself; the book was 300 pages and easily could have been shorter by a third without losing any content. I'm glad I read it, though: it was well-written and I learned a lot.

Recommended for those with an interest in archaeology and ancient history, who don't mind their popular science writing on the challenging side of "popular".

Some Good News For a Change

The summit scene is done. 3,200 words. Whew!

The next scene is much shorter, with only two characters, and will close the chapter.

Friday, April 26, 2013

5 Signs You've Spent Too Much Time at the Hospital Lately

1) When you're checking in, instead of verifying your name, address, and insurance information, the receptionist says, "Nothing's changed since yesterday, right?"

2) You recognize some of the people in the promotional posters hanging in the waiting room. "Look-- it's Dr. M! And isn't that the nurse that...?"

3) You know to request the paper tape for the I.V. Regular tape is for suckers!

4) When the person you're waiting for emerges from what was supposed to be a one-hour procedure 2.5 hours late, you say, "Wow, that's it? You're done already?"

5) You can't remember where in the parking garage you parked the car. Level 5, on the uphill side? No, that was last time. Dammit.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cloudy, With a Chance of Crisis

Sadly, I did not have a crisis-free day. The saga of The Husband's current health drain-circling continues. I didn't finish the scene today. But I did write more than I have any other day this week.

Diving Back In

Okay. The Husband is back at work. The Son is in school for the morning. The article of doom is written and submitted. I'm not tutoring until late this afternoon. I have no excuse to not finish the summit scene today.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Awesome

April has been kicking my ass. This morning I had to bring The Husband to the ER for the third time in two weeks. None of it is life-threatening stuff, but it sucks up so much of my time and energy.

My brain only seems to be functioning on input these days; output is close to nil, and storage and processing aren't that hot either. I've been reading a ton, and watching a lot of movies, but only managing to write ~100 words a day. I'm still inching through the first day of summit talks; I've written the end of the scene, which makes it feel less daunting to work on the middle.

I need a day with no crises to re-charge my brain so I can THINK again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 6

Book 6 is another DNF: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It won the Hugo for best novel in 1968, and the premise is fascinating: human settlers on an alien planet use science to mold their society after Hindu mythology. Awesome, right? After all, that's what Sharon Shinn did with Christian mythology in the Samaria books, and I'm a big fan of those. And it won a Hugo!

But.

The writing-- egad. It is so, so stilted. I can only describe it as a white American guy in 1968 trying really hard to sound like a Hindu god. And the tone is consistent: every single character so far speaks in the same stilted way as the narration. If it was just one character speaking like this, it would be fine-- amusing, even. But after 45 pages it looks like the whole book is going to be this way. The few things that have actually happened are interesting, but they are buried beneath tediously vague conversations about Being Wary of the Unnamed Forces Against Us, and tediously long philosophical speeches that sound to me like hippie-dippy pseudo-"Eastern" BS.

I am sorely disappointed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 5

It's been a crazy week of school vacations, a mild illness for The Son, and two hospitalizations for The Husband, so I've been doing far more reading than writing, I'm afraid. Book 5 of the challenge is also book 5 of a series: Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eion Colfer.

I ripped my way through the first three Artemis Fowl books several years ago, then saw books 4 and 5 for ridiculously cheap at a library book sale and snatched them up. But for whatever reason, #4 (The Opal Deception) left me cold, and it's taken me well over a year and this challenge to get me to pick up the next one. In fact, if I hadn't already bought The Lost Colony, I would have abandoned the series.

Well, hooray for buying ahead and hooray for reading challenges, because I enjoyed this one just as much as the first three. There's not a lot to say about it; it's an Artemis Fowl book, which means child geniuses, clandestine operations, high-tech weapons, fairies and other magical creatures, a small dose of potty humor (to delight the twelve-year-old boys), and a rather larger dose of wry Irish humor (because Colfer is a wry Irishman and can't help himself).

Now I'm wondering what the hell my problem was with Opal Deception. I can't remember it that clearly, although I do recall finding the character of Opal annoying, and that it just seemed lackluster, like going through the motions of an Artemis Fowl story. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood to read it.

I was in the right mood this time. And I've added book 6 to my TBR list.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 4

The fourth book I've read for my shelf-sittter reading challenge is Alanna by Tamora Pierce, a YA Fantasy novel about a girl who disguises herself as a boy to become a knight, and discovers great power within herself. Not the most innovative of plots, but I'd heard this book mentioned as a classic of girl-power YA, and then I saw it at the used bookstore and figured what the hell.

Long post short: parts of this book were enjoyable, but for me the problems outweighed the stuff I liked.

The aspect of the book that I liked the best was the characters-- which, if you're only going to do one thing right, is the thing to choose. Alanna is a stubborn red-haired girl, and yet for me she was never the clich├ęd "fiery redhead". She can get a little mouthy when she's pissed, but she also has a lot of self-control, and work ethic like whoa. I appreciated that Pierce didn't try to make Alanna too likable; she's a very prickly person, and she needs to learn to open up and trust people-- a task made all the more difficult by the fact that she's constantly having to hide the fact that she's female.

There's a lot to admire in Alanna. At first I was like, oh gawd, it's the female character who's incredibly awesome at all things knightly: she's an amazing archer, a brilliant student, a natural with horses, she's brave and honorable, yadda yadda. But then Alanna encounters something she genuinely sucks at-- and it's not because she's a girl trying to do a man's job. She's just plain old not good at it, and that fact terrifies her at first. But she works her ass off over many months to improve, and does. That's a pretty awesome message.

I also liked many of the supporting characters: Alanna's posse of affable fellow pages; her down-to-earth manservant; stern Duke Gareth; the King of Thieves; the slightly hippie-ish Sir Myles.  Even Alanna's twin brother, whom we barely see in this book, was interesting enough to make me curious what role he plays in the later books.

But being intrigued with the characters isn't enough to make me actually read the rest of the books in this series. And that's because there are a lot problems with the writing here.

Some of the issues might stem from the fact that this book was first published in 1983. Perhaps Pierce was hobbled by the period's ideas about what was possible in YA. This really feels to me like a book that should be longer-- it covers three years, and it's trying to have a sweeping epic feel. There was a lot that was told that I felt should have been shown.

Pierce also indulged-- several times-- in one of my pet peeves, which is making characters forget things they know in order to create suspense. For example (and I'm going to be vague here, to avoid spoilers): there's a character that everyone seems to love, but Alanna instinctively dislikes and distrusts him. Someone she cares about is nearly killed, and she gets a solid tip that the guy she doesn't like is a key suspect. She doesn't say anything about it to anyone, since no one would believe her and she has no real evidence, but she vows to watch him more closely. Fine so far. But then, in the very next chapter, this guy subtly encourages the person who was almost killed to do something incredibly dangerous, and Alanna is all, Surely he's not trying to kill him! How outrageously silly of me to think such a thing! When, dude, you already determined that this guy is a threat. What, did you just forget??

And finally, I think this book really, really could have used another editing pass. Big chunks of it were fine, but then there were sections that sucked, frankly: lots of telling where you could show it in just as few words, headhopping, overuse of "to be" verbs, unnecessary attributives-- just a little shop of writing horrors. I've been reading a lot of excellent children's fiction to The Son lately, so I felt no "but it's just a kid's book!" forgiveness.

In a word: Eh.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 3

The third book I've read for my shelf-sitter challenge is Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card. I've been thinking about a recent post by Library Hungry that mentions the problematic intersection between an author's work and their personality/personal beliefs. This seems particularly apropos to any discussion of Card, whom many readers seem to personally loathe while grudgingly admiring his work. I've deliberately avoided learning too much about the man (I won't even read the forewords he's written for the later editions of the Ender books), so that I can enjoy his novels in peaceful ignorance. Because I do enjoy his novels. A lot.

Ender's Shadow is a sequel to Ender's Game (deservedly considered a modern Science Fiction classic), a tale about genius children spirited off to an elite Battle School in space to be trained to repel an alien invasion. Note that I said "a sequel" and not "the sequel"; from the root of Ender's Game, Card has split the story into two branches of sequels. One branch (which I've already read) follows Ender into adulthood and across the Universe in his quest to find peace and redemption. The other branch follows Bean, another student at Battle School and a minor character in Ender's Game.

In a way, Ender's Shadow isn't really a sequel at all, since the events of the book are concurrent with the events in Game. It's almost like reading Game again, but from a different character's point of view. However, very few of the scenes actually overlap; it's more like a director's cut, or deleted scenes on DVD extras. And Bean-- although another small-for-his-age super-mega-genius-- is a very different character, who begins and ends the story in very different places from Ender.

I am not the target audience for military Science Fiction; I have no inherent interest in war, battles, weapons, strategy, or stories about hostile aliens coming to Destroy Us All. Despite that, the Ender books are among my favorite Science Fiction novels. They are so well-crafted they make me care about     what happens at Battle School... and then the ending gives you a huge payoff for having cared.

I do have two quibbles with the Ender's Shadow. The first is the same as my major quibble with Game: the kids just act too old to be as young as Card wants them to be. I don't care how genius-y they are; six-year-olds are not like twelve-year-olds. Basically, Card seems to be arguing that emotional development and intellectual development are inextricably linked, and I emphatically disagree with that idea.

My other complaint is that I found the villain really boring and annoying. He's only a big factor in the first few chapters, and then makes a brief appearance later on, and to me he feels sort of stuck into the story in an artificial way, like "Remember this guy! He's not important now, but he'll be important in the next book!" Also, I didn't buy what Card is selling about him. With Peter Wiggin in Game, you see for yourself how brilliant he is, and how dangerous. Whereas in Shadow, we're told that the villain is brilliant and dangerous, but it's all telling; we're not really given a chance to draw our own conclusions about him. Frankly, I wasn't convinced he was even smart enough to earn a place at Battle School, never mind that he was any sort of threat to or match for Bean.

That aside, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Ender's Game.

40%

The second draft of TOB is 40% done.

I'm slowly making my way through the summit meeting scene. I made an outline, and have been copying, pasting, and editing chunks from the first draft; I'm just about done with those. Next up is to connect those chunks with new content that will give the scene more focus and impact.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stressy McRambles

I finished chapter 9.

The next scene is a monster: long, talky, introduces a bunch of colorful secondary characters. I suspect I'll be able to use big chunks of the first draft version... but before I do I need to get the scene straight in my head. It kind of ran away from me in the first draft. There's a lot going on (although very little "action"), but I need to stay focused on the most important thing that happens, which is Willa realizing that there's infinitely more at stake here than she thought. This isn't just about showing the bridgers what a badass she is and earning her apprenticeship; it's about the survival of her entire culture being threatened.

I need to do some scene work, but I don't think my usual process is quite what I need in this case. I'll do the goal steps and turning point exercises, but from there it's more a matter of working out what happens, step by step, so I don't get lost in all the details. Also, I need to figure out what the point of this "Six Nations" summit actually is. I know the Antagonist's secret agenda behind it, but I'm still not completely clear on how it's being sold to the average space-dwelling shmo. And I need to learn more about how real-world summit talks operate, because I'm having a hard time figuring out what they're actually talking about for the month it needs to be going on.

And I have an article deadline this week, which I am SO NOT READY FOR. And The Husband is in the hospital getting another blood transfusion because there is something worrying going on with his body's complete lack of interest in producing red blood cells. Bleah.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Smart-Ass vs. Jack-Ass

I'm struggling with a scene right now. It's not a long scene, and I know exactly what needs to happen in it. What's throwing me is tone. Willa has just been informed that she's stuck with Akenam for the foreseeable future. Akenam's mask is the Jester: he's witty, irreverent, and more than a bit of a smart-ass. That's not all he is, but that's how he appears, and to Willa, who takes her situation verrrrrrrrry seriously, he is an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst. He is escorting her to her quarters in the Terran Resettlement Project's compound, and being his banter-y, smart-assy self. But I'm having a hard time making him be actually funny, in addition to being slightly obnoxious. I think he's coming off as kind of a jack-ass, and that's not the opinion I want the reader to have of him.

It bugs me, how such a tiny thing-- maybe 10 lines of dialogue exchanged-- can slow me down so much.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Another Friday Update

I finally got the long writing day I was hoping for last week: 1,600 words so far today, and it's only 2:15. I wrote the scene in which Willa meets the second Antagonist for the first time, and I'm really happy with how it turned out. The tone of their interaction is quite different from the first draft, but I was still able to use big pieces of the first draft version just by tweaking them a little. And I had a big inspiration about a technological element that I've never happy with before; it's so much better now, and actually fixes another nagging "tech" problem later in the book, and even ties back into the title. I'm feeling pretty damn cheerful right now!

Now I need to take a shower (I changed back into my pajamas after I dropped The Son at school), and do the mom thing: pick The Son up from after-K, play at the playground for a while, make supper, read stories. Tonight I'm going to try to get a good start on the scene work for the next scene, which will close chapter 9.

Monday, April 1, 2013

35%

The second draft is 35% done!

Awesome April

If you look back through the archives here at Excavating the Relic, you'll notice that April is historically an awful month for me, writing-wise. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm geared up to break the pattern with an Awesome April Challenge.

I am declaring a goal of reaching the midpoint of The Owl Bearer by midnight on April 30. That means I have at least 20,000 words to write this month, not including all the scene work. It'll take a lot of effort and-- let's face it-- I might not get there. But I am hoping that no matter what, I'll accomplish more than my usual April output, which is zilch.