Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Top Ten Books

Since Entertainment Weekly failed to mention several books they ought to have, here's is Dreaming in Red's top ten books read in 2006.

1. Widdershins by Charles deLint, Mythic Realism

2. Hitching Rides With Buddha by Will Ferguson, Non-Fiction Travel Memoir

3. Warrior and Witch by Marie Brennan, Fantasy

4. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones, Young Adult Fantasy

5. Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow, Sci-Fantasy

6. Forbidden Cargo by Rebecca K Rowe, Science Fiction

7. Chrono Crusade vol 8 by Daisuke Moriyama, Comic Alternate History

8. Rurouni Kenshin vol 28 by Nobuhiro Watsuki, Comic Historical Romance

9. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, Short Story Collection

10. The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, Chick Lit

Honorable mentions: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer, and Next Exit vol 1 by Christy Lijewski.

+

Most Anticipated Books for 2007:

1. STRAY by Rachel Vincent

2. THE SCENT OF SHADOWS by Vicki Pettersson

3. THE TASTE OF NIGHT by Vicki Pettersson

4. THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND by Lilith Saintcrow

5. IN THE STARS by Eileen Cook

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

As the card says, we will be taking a holiday break between December 20–28th. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone, and enjoy the season!

xoxo C.Rooney

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How to Make a Peppermint Mocha

At the request of Rachel...

I don't happen to know the exact formula that Starbucks or Seattle's Best Coffee uses, but I can give you the ingredients and a general idea of the ratios. Vary for personal tastes, of course. :)

You'll need:

1) Hot chocolate mix. If you can get mint chocolate then you won't need the peppermint syrup. A lot of companies market their mint hot chocolate as "candy cane" flavor. White chocolate and vanilla chocolate also work well. (SBC's peppermint trio is supposed to be a combination of white, milk, and dark chocolate.) Sugar content varies with brands, and the sweetness of the hot chocolate will affect how sweet the drink is.

2) Espresso or coffee. Coffee is more diluted than espresso, so you have to watch how much liquid you use or you'll not get the right flavor mix. Depending on the strength of your coffee, you'll have to add less or more.

3) Milk or cream to add that creamy taste. Works best if you warm it up a little in the microwave so that the hot chocolate mixes in easier and the coffee doesn't get cooled down too quickly.

4) Peppermint syrup (if you can't find mint hot chocolate.) Peppermint syrup is not something I'd recommend if you're not used to using coffee syrups, because it can be really overpowering. (Especially the starbucks brand.) Plus, if you're adding candy cane pieces, they'll give the drink a little bit of sweet mint taste as they dissolve. The trick is to get a sweet minty taste, and not something that tastes like toothpaste. ^_^;

5) Whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and (mint) candy cane pieces. For an indulgent topping. :)

The trick we discovered last year is that it takes a few tries to get the right ratio of syrup, espresso, and mint. If you're using the syrup, I speak from experience when I say "less is more." Start with a little bit, because you can always add more.

Anyway, basically you make the hot chocolate, but instead of water or milk, you use a combination of milk and coffee with the powder. Unless you've got an espresso machine at home that can steam milk, you'll never quite duplicate what they do in coffee houses, but you can get pretty close with a little practice. And you'll have way more control over how sweet, minty, or chocolatey the drink is.

The topping is a dollop of whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a sprinkle of candy cane pieces that you broke up earlier.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Review: Fragile Things

To be quite honest, I'm entirely biased about Neil Gaiman. I think he's brilliant. A well-loved copy of Stardust travels the world with me. (Well, it came to Japan and back, then to Los Angeles.) It's due for another reading, but just seeing it on the shelf has a comforting effect. The Stardust movie is, by the by, coming out in July 2007.

That said, it's always a bit hit and a miss for me when it comes to his short story collections. I can't fault him for his writing, but there's always a number of included pieces that just don't do anything for me. Is Fragile Things a "better" collection than Smoke and Mirrors? Possibly. While there's still the pieces that don't connect with me, at least I appreciate the way he's put those pieces together on a page.

What I always love most about his collections is the introduction. Biographies for the stories included, and always a story within the introduction—stories within stories feature in so much of his work. Smoke and Mirrors had The Wedding Gift, and Fragile Things has The Mapmaker. It was originally written to be included in American Gods, but he couldn't find a place for it.

This is how The Mapmaker begins: "One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story."

If that doesn't strike your fancy, there are thirty-one other flavors to choose from. Might I recommend my favorites?

1) Harlequin Valentine: a delightfully odd, wonderfully written little gem. Not for the faint of heart, but worth every creepy moment.

2) The Monarch of the Glen: an American Gods' novella that's no more a sequel than Anansai Boys was, but does detail one of the further adventures of Shadow. I liked this better than the original novel.

3) Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire: The strangest, most effective take on the question "why write fantasy" that I've ever read.

4) Locks: a beautiful poem about the importance of stories.

5) The Fairy Reel: a poem as musical as the dangerous enchanting song it describes.

6) Instructions: how to survive in a fairy tale. I do believe they ought to be handed out to every child, because you never know when you might need them.

There's also Feeders and Eaters, Closing Time, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and October in the Chair that are memorable inclusions. They're subtle, which makes them stronger tales.

If you've never read Gaiman before, Fragile Things is a good starting place. If you're a Gaiman fan, you're already going to read it, right?

Rating: A-

Monday, October 30, 2006

Review: Warrior and Witch

The follow-up to Doppelganger, Marie Brennan's Warrior and Witch details what happens after her main protagonist, Mirei, effectively refutes one of the fundamental beliefs of her society.

Having proven that killing the witch's doppelganger robs the Witch of the fifth element, the Void, Mirei is offered little time to rest. Witch society at Starfell fractures and nothing short of a civil war ensues. The other surviving doppelgangers are immediately placed in danger, and Mirei leaves Starfell to gather the four doppelganger children who reside at Hunter schools.

One of the things I loved about this book is that Ms. Brennan has made Satomi, the Void Prime, a viewpoint character. Satomi's was my favorite character arc in the first book, and it was wonderful to see her character used to her full potential in Warrior and Witch.

Part One mainly deals with Mirei's quest to retrieve the doppelganger children. (My favorite of the four is Amas.) I enjoyed the quest; it's well-paced and believable.

Part Two deals with the dissident witches, who have aligned themselves with a territory whose religion agrees with their viewpoint—that the Void is unnatural, and so is Mirei. This is the part where Brennan's writing skills truly shine. She crafts both believable physical fight scenes and some very impressive magical duels.

Plus, part two has exceptional plot twists. One of the twists, involving the identity of the witch who has been spying on Starfell for the dissidents... well, I don't want to ruin it for you. I'll just say, nice slight of hand, Ms. Brennan.

As for two of the other surprises waiting, well, they both managed to elicit audible gasps. In fact, after the second one, I actually had to pause reading for a moment to take in what had happened.

Very few books lately have offered an impacting twist as believable. It was natural, so entirely appropriate for the character, but it still wasn't what I expected.

I noted in Doppelganger that the dialogue wasn't quite up to the standards of the narration. Well, it's improved in Warrior and Witch. There's a greater sense of individual tone for the characters, and a fantastic scene in part one where Mirei's dialogue style and tone changes because she's putting on an act.

A lot happens in the novel that we hear through other characters, which is done well. However, two of the characters introduced as playing relevant parts disappear for the middle of the book. I understand that in order to include more scenes of them, the novel would have increased in length, but I still found myself wondering what Eclipse and Eikyo were doing.

I was particularly interested in the Eikyo plotline, and I would enjoyed seeing it featured more with her as a viewpoint character. (So we were shown what happened instead of being told of it by Nae and Rin later.)

The ending of the book is lovely, but not quite as satisfying as the ending to Doppelganger. Mainly because I found myself wondering what became of Indera. (I'd like to think that she joins a troupe of temple dancers, and over time, the emptiness in her heart fades and she's able to lead a happy life, using her talents to honor the Goddess.)

Regardless, I'm pleased to say Marie Brennan has earned a place on my shelf of favorite authors.

Rating: B+

Friday, October 27, 2006

M.A.C. Chinese Dress Party

Last night, thanks to my friend Ophelia, I had an invitation + one to the M.A.C. Cosmetics Chinese Dress event on Robertson. Yes, many other much more fabulous LA people—they were the ones dressed in all black—had invites as well, but it was very cool to savor the concept of being able to say "my name's on the list."

Chinese Dress, for those of you who don't know, is the latest M.A.C. body painting show that's circulating. The concept is the sensuality and beauty of the Qi Pao, or traditional Chinese dress. The models are wearing thongs and pasties. Everything else you see (except the headdresses) has been painted on using MAC cosmetics.

It's amazing and gorgous and very, very sexy. Accompanied by dark lighting, pounding bass, and attractive shirtless men serving finger foods. (The red raspberry fortune cookies were my favorite.)

Anyway, clandestine photos taken with my phone. They're not blurry, I swear. They're Spy Chic.


Frozen forever in time, this maiden from 1923 smiles out into the future. (And let me tell you, not only was she the prettiest model, she was the only one who looked like she was having a good time. Dude, this girl was working it.)


The year is 2714, and China has entered its third golden empire. Its forces have subdued the rebellious West, and its top general celebrates in a bar. This golden cyborg beauty dances for him.


The Peony twins are renown throughout the Orient for their skills as assassins. The Chinese mafia killed their parents when they four, and they have sworn revenge. Tonight, they stalk the leader of Los Angeles' branch of that mafia. Their triumphant smiles a sign that they've spotted him across the room.




The little Chinese mermaid. Should she fail to capture the heart of her prince by the end of the show, she'll be reduced to foam upon the ocean. If you listen you can hear the roar of the waves....



Madame Wu, mistress of the night, beckons to lonely strangers in crowded bars. They disappear into the shadows and she returns, her hunger sated. But what of the missing men? Count the crystals that line her gown, over 1200 souls that have drown in her fathomless eyes.

Much better photos available on the official website, but their stories aren't nearly as fun.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Disneyland Halloween Fest

Yesterday, we went to Disneyland, as the park has been decked out for Halloween. I had never seen the Haunted Mansion's Holiday Fantasy—where the ride is redecorated in its Nightmare Before Christmas holiday theme. Very, very cool. The audio track is changed as well to match up with the story of Sandy Claws. I also wanted to see the newly redone Pirates of the Carribean, which features 3 Cap'n Jack Sparrows and a Barbosa, as well as Davy Jones from the second movie. All they have to do is replaced that banjo picker at the start with the Voodoo Priestess.


Cap'n Jack at the end of the ride.

Most of photos inside the rides didn't turn out, but I've included lots of outdoor decor shots.

In fact, the only ride that the photos did really turn out was It's a Small World (Of TERROR!), and most of those are of various bizarre/racist puppets that plan to kill me in my sleep.

We've also got several photos of us wearing funny hats and/or using the various outdoor decor for funny photos, but I'm not sure how many of you want to see Dumbo trying to stick his trunk up someone's butt....

Onwards, to the Halloween-y time!


It's gourd-tastic!


Usually you can't even see the street of the Main Street area because of all the people. Yesterday was not a busy day. See that dark poster? It's advertising Donald Duck & Steve Martin doing a show together. Oh, Steve Martin, how far you've fallen... you're teamed with a comedy partner who doesn't wear pants.




Giant winking Mickey pumpkin... eating my hand. Don't look into the eye! Don't look into the—wait, hang on, that was the Indiana Jones ride... never mind.


All the residents have been turned into pumpkins!


And if we don't win this hand, we'll join them....


Ooh, someone's redecorated.



This one features not only Jack as my Pumpkin Hat, but the cool costumes the ride operators and greeters get to wear. Check it out—he's got the same bowtie as Jack.



This is the inside display as you get on the black sleighs. There's a lot of lead up in the mansion, complete with the "growing" room and the gallery of shifting paintings.

Ideally we would have gotten the Jack Skellington from inside the Mansion. To be honest, we did, but Disney has this little rule about no flash photography—seriously they announced over the audio track while we were on the ride because someone a few "black sleighs" ahead of us was using their flash. I think I have a video of when we went by Sandy Claws and he asked if I'd been good this year, but I haven't managed to get it off my camera yet.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A new CP was very impressed with The Rainy Season, as was Rae, so I guess it's time to stop sitting on my hands and start preparing that for submission to Tesseracts 11.

Oh, speaking of Edge, I heard back finally from Brian, who told me I have a great personality and "loads of potential" as an author. Which is always a nice confidence boost to receive, especially from someone in the industry. (Which reminds me I'm supposed to email him about the photos from WorldCon.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Why I hate Japanese Horror Movies

So it's Friday the 13th— click the link to learn all about the holiday.

Marking agencies have been working very hard to make the most of this day of misfortune. How far in advance do you think they planned the release of the final book in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events? Isn't that a stroke of marketing genuis? Release the thirteenth book of a series famous for its misfortunate on the "unluckiest day of the year."

Another big, big push is the release of The Grudge 2. The sequel to The Grudge, which was the English version of the Japanese horror movie, Ju-On.

I hated that movie. Hated it. Well, ok, when I watched it, I was pretty impressed, but you try to sleep when you're worried that whatever her name is going to crawl up under your covers and steal you away to... uh, wherever dead grudge people go. (I think it's the time lost between the four vignettes of the original Japanese movie.) Over a year later, I'm still terrified of that echoing clicking noise that the dead woman made—which, by the way, was because her throat was crushed and that was the only scream for help she could emit.

Why did that particular movie scare me so? Simple, you can't win in a Japanese horror film like Ju-On. Nor can you really win in one like Ringu. Why? Because evil in Japan is really, really... evil. It's not stupid, it's not forced to obey a set of rules. It's Evil. It's Spooky, Spooky Death Evil.

That's what is terrifying about Ju-On. Not the story, not the visuals—the idea itself. Is there any marking to distinguish the house of death from any other house on the street? Not unless someone's just been killed in it and you can count police tap, but all of those people are already screwed so it doesn't matter. You see, Ju-On functions on a very simple principle: if you go into the house you will die.

No exceptions. Enter house, earn Spooky Spooky Death.

Think about it, killed for no reason other than your real estate agent showed you a house. You didn't anger the house, you didn't offend the spirit. You went inside. That's it.

Western mythology tends to function along the lines of "if you don't do A, B, and C, then you will survive" or "this creature can be defeated by X." Supernatural is a great example of this difference. Each episode the Winchesters defeat evil (ok, almost every episode, that season finale and opener are questionable "victories,") because there are rules that the creatures have to obey. Or look at our horror movies, which have rules so entrenched they've been mocked in Scream and mocked again in Scary Movie.

As writers who work with supernatural elements, we learn the rules. Vampires have to drink blood. Werewolves transform during the nights of the full moon. Vampires are killed by wood, usually a stake to the heart, or by decapitation and occasionally by silver. Even when the mythologies are reinvented like in Blade and Buffy, there are still rules.

There's never a villain who can't be defeated. (Someone correct me if I'm overlooking one.) Or in the case of Ringu, a villian that can only be defeated by exchanging your fate for someone else's.

Ringu
functions on the principle that you have seven days to live after seeing a video, and the reason that the protagonist survives isn't because she solves the mystery of the video—it's because she makes a copy of the video and forces someone else to watch it. (Which has something to do with the effort to have as many people as possible watch the video because it spreads like a virus, and since I haven't managed to find paperback translations of Spiral and Loop, I don't know what the whole purpose of the infection was. I suspect it allowed more beings like Sadako to enter the world.)

So you can win, but at what cost? Do you really win if you survive by assisting the dark forces?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Review: Doppelganer

Marie Brennan's Doppelganger is a fantasy novel that uses the ideas of witches and magic to examine nature versus nuture, the concept of a soul, and the effect of tradition upon a society.

When a witch is born, a spell is cast that creates a channel for magic to flow into the witch, but that channel is blocked until she is twenty-five and mature enough to handle the power. However, the side-effect of this spell is to separate the baby into two entities: witch baby and her doppelganger. The doppelganger must be killed before the witch can control her magic.

A key element in this concept is the belief that a baby does not have a soul until it's exposed to starlight, and this is done in a ceremony five days after the baby's birth.

There is a review on amazon that expressed a reader's inability to finish the book because the concept of killing a baby was too horrifying to her. Whether we, as readers, respond that strongly, the importance of Brennan's novel is that the majority of her witch characters are not horrified by this concept. That is a strong message about the hold that religious doctrine and tradition has on a society.

In the novel, Brennan explores what happens when one of these doppelgangers is not killed and survives to adulthood. Miryo is a young witch, who passes her final test, but learns she will not be able to control her magic until she finds and kills her doppelganger. Only that doppelganger has grown into a woman with an identity of her own—the Hunter named Mirage.

Brennan has crafted a wonderful world. Her descriptions may be sparse, in places, but that is far better than sucumbing to the traditional fantasy genre fallacy of too much detail bogging down the narration. Instead, Brennan's world-building is skillful, subtle and strongly displayed in her ability to craft believable and suitable linguistic details regarding the Starfell witches.

Each catagory of witch, depending on her rank and affiliation, has its own suffix. If it sounds a bit confusing, don't fret, a handy glossary has been included. It allows the reader to reference characters and terms that may confuse them.

Her main protagonists are two strong, well-developed female characters. Their strengths may be in different areas, but they compliment each other. Mirage is a trained Hunter, who works as a spy, bounty hunter, assassin, etc. Miryo is a witch, who has been trained in healing arts and magic lore. The two are well-balanced—it's not a matter of a brains and brawn separation.

Also, Brennan does not have a romantic subplot, and this was a refreshing change from the standard urban fantasy fare I've been reading. That is not to say that character relationships aren't a driving factor of the plot, but just that romance isn't a part of those relationships.

Occasionally, the witch names caused me to pause. They appear to be constructed from Japanese. Certain names are common female names, other have a more masculine look to them—despite being given to females. Still others do not appear to be names at all but compounds of phoenetics. I imagine they could be composed of terms I'm unfamiliar with, and it would be interesting to learn if they were constructed to have specific meanings. (One of my favorite of these syallable names is "Arinei." Ah-ree-neh. It just rolls off the tongue.)

My only concern with the novel was the dialogue. It's not "bad," persay, it's just not up to the quality of the narration. This could be because everyone in the novel spoke venacular English. It's not a problem to use common language in dialogue, but it can become one if every character sounds the same. I was a little disappointed, as the characters seemed to lack individual voices.

Regardless of the dialogue, I enjoyed this book and felt it had a statisfying conclusion. If this was caused by Doppelganger being primarily written as a stand-alone, then I think more authors should write that way. However, since Brennan answered her publisher's request for a sequel, I must admit that I'm excited to read it.

Rating: B+

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I don't care what anyone in Edmonton says. It's damn bloody cold here. :D

Today, well technically tomorrow, is Canadian Thanksgiving. Which is a celebration of the harvest and not pilgrims, because very few people are harvesting in November.

Enough of my silly complaints, though, because I really did miss fall. All the leaves, the amazing Alberta skies—seriously, you might think you've seen the sky, but nothing can compare to the color of Canadian sky blue. It's vivid, luminous—alive.

Speaking of colors, you guys should see the leaves here. Gold, red, orange. They're gorgeous! I won't be cliche and say that the trees and hills look like they're on fire. They don't. They look like they're made of light.

Anyway, gotta go, but I hope you're all having a wonderful thanksgiving and/or Columbus day weekend.

And thank you all for your support and friendship over the past year. :)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Review: Dead Man Rising

Dead Man Rising, the second book in Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine series, is very low on the demon count, and I was happy that it didn't have the same twist regarding the villain as book one. It would have disappointed me if the series turned formulatic. However, one of the big draws to the first book for me was Japhrimel, because I'm not entirely convinced I like Danny Valentine. No Japh means Ms. Saintcrow had to work twice as hard to keep my attention.

Most of what I didn't care for in book two revolved around Danny pining for Japhrimel and being torn between her love for him and her inability to decide if she loved Jace.

The reason this bothered me was because Danny strikes me as strong, firm character. Her wishy-wash "I love Japh, I love Jace, I love Japh, I don't love you Jace I'm really sorry, I love Japh, wait maybe I do love Jace" seemed to detract from an otherwise iron-clad and very well-written mystery.

The reason that Danny has to suffer more emotional and psychological threats is because of her increased strength and healing abilities. I understand that, and it's done well. But I'm concerned it was a little too much emotional trauma. The psychological threat of the Rigger Hall memories would have been enough for me, without the added Danny misses Japh and is confused by her feelings for Jace plot. Unfortunately, to not address the Japh and Jace emotional issues would have lessened Danny's ability to appear as a sympathetic character. It's a bit of catch 22, so I put up with her moaning because it's what she ought to be doing.

And the death in this book did get a "no way" from me. Unfortunately, that's all it got. I didn't feel saddened by the death, because I didn't care for that character, but I was surprised that it happened. I understand—from a writer's perspective—why it had to happen, but I'm unconvinced that it wasn't a ploy to play off reader's emotions.

The psychological angle of the threat in Dead Man Rising is really well done. Despite how annoyed I may have been with Danny over the course of the book, I would say this is better written than Working for the Devil. The mystery that fuels the second book is fueled by a concept that I found terrifying. Psychic vampires, though, are not a new thing. The concept of a Feeder has circulated through fiction before and it will again. However, Ms. Saintcrow does it well and makes it terrifying.

Working for the Devil had the twist in the last twenty pages that seemed thrown at the reader—where Danny reveals all the things she found out later, and it was the one moment in the book where I hesitated and didn't immediately believe the way the information was delivered. Dead Man Rising doesn't have that problem. The resolution isn't thrown at you, almost like an after thought, it's delievered at a reasonable place and pace.

While the first book developed the demon world and a little bit of their culture, the second is all about the psions. Their culture and world is expanded and developed. Ms. Saintcrow has the advantage of book behind that started building her world, now she just has to concern herself with expanding and reaffirming it.

The second book comes with four extras: a glossary, a lecture transcript, a term paper and a preview of the third book. I love the glossary, despite that it's incomplete because there are terms used multiple times in the book that don't appear in the glossary. It's a nice reference, though, and I did flip back to it a few times while reading.

As for the "lecture" and "term paper" extras, they seemed unnecessary—yes, that would be why they were extras—because they weren't really long enough to devulge a great deal of information.

Book Three, The Devil's Right Hand, is set to come out in July 2007. Given the title and what happens in book two, I'm guessing that book three will be back to the demon side of things and may finally give us some answers about Japhrimel's history. (Or Vincent Valentine will show up and bitchslap Danny around for thinking she could even try to steal his title of Emo Badass Valentine)

Overall, it's well-written and a good read. But it's just not as much fun as the first one. It's a bit like comparing chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. They're both tasty, but they're two different kinds of treats.

Rating: B+

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Los Angeles

This is a story for you about Los Angeles.

LA is an ambitious city:
whispered promises of backdoor deals—
reward without having to earn it.
Everyone searches for their Walk of Fame,
Looking for Someone Famous.

He dresses in chic black,
and sunglasses hide his inhuman eyes.
Those aren't stars in yours,
but a blood thrall as you drift closer,
drawn to one who exhales empty promises.

"I'll make you a star,"
he breathes.
"I'll put you in the pictures."
Then his knife-teeth are in your throat,
and you're in pictures of the dreamless dead.

Meditations on priorities

So I've been polishing on The Rainy Season, and working on another little short story idea.

See, burnout and I have been flirting for the past month, and as much as I'm excited for FH3 and as badly as I want to write it, I need to pause before I jump into it. Polish book 1, work with the feedback I'm receiving for book 2. I was trying to edit book 1 a few days ago, and I just made a mess of things by over-editing.

When I started writing it was because I enjoyed doing it. The only reason I started thinking about publishing was because someone said I was good at writing. But somewhere along the way, enjoyment stopped being the primarily reason that I wrote. It became about making it a career. About it being the road to fame and fortune.

That's what LA does to you. You watch people walk around with stars in their eyes, and the words "I'm going to be famous" on their lips. You see how their cluster at Formosa Cafe, or Jones, or The White Lotus—dressed head to toe in black and trying to prove that they're somebody.

It's time to stop feeling pressured and intimidated by agents who get hundreds of queries a day. It's time to stop feeling left out or behind or whatever. It's time to stop being so worried about getting published and get back to what was important: telling a story.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review: Hitching Rides with Buddha

Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan
Will Ferguson

Note: This review pertains to the Canadian edition published in 2005 by Knopf Canada under the original title that the author wanted to use. The American and UK editions are entitled Hokkaido Highway Blues. (Also, the UK paperback edition is an abridged version of the original manuscript.)

There is a zen maxim that goes "if you should meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."

That is only one of the countless tidbits of Japanese culture and history that Will Ferguson expertly weaves into his travel memoir.

Mr. Ferguson worked as an English teacher in Japan for five years—an occupation where countless of his Canadian brethren find themselves temporarily employed. It's not uncommon, especially in British Columbia, to know at least one person in your circle of friends who has either worked in Japan or knows someone who has.

However, Hitching Rides with Buddha isn't about teaching English in Japan. (Regardless of how most of its information could have only been passed on by a resident foreigner.) But it's not a tourist account of an unbelievable week in Tokyo, either.

The premise is simple: one cherry blossom viewing party, Will Ferguson got really drunk and declared he would follow the Cherry Blossom Front from Cape Sata at the very southern tip of Japan all the way to Cape Souya at the very northern tip of Japan. Then to one up himself, he added that he was going to hitchhike.

The cherry blossom—sakura—is a cultural phenomenon in Japan. They track the percentage of blossoms as they bloom across the country, starting at the southern tip of Kyushu. The sakura cause celebration and drunken revelry, but they signify the transient happiness of life. They bring joy, but symbolize melancholy.

After three years of stalling, Mr. Ferguson sets out, and thus begins an island-by-island journey through Japan fueled by the kindness of strangers.

For the past three years, I've sought to explain Japan to people who have never been there. To fully vocalize the "lovehate" that it inspires in its foreign residents. Three years of struggling for words that a fellow Canadian has already written down for me.

Hitching Rides with Buddha is an entire book of True Tales of Japan. Humorous, touching, and heartbreaking, this is part travel guide, part memoir, part Japanese history course, and part cultural primer. Mr. Ferguson uses a dry wit and doesn't mince his words, but he is also deeply poetic and capable of weaving vivid, beautiful phrases that convey visual and emotional meaning.

For example, in one of my favorite passages, he refers to Matsuyama castle as a cupcake with too much icing. Yet you understand why its a relevant metaphor. (Matsuyama, Shikoku is the only place that our journeys intersected.)

Mr. Ferguson did not spend time in the same places that I lived, so through his words I have travelled with him to villages and cities that I never had the opportunity to see.

For someone who has lived in Japan, this is a book brimming with nostalgia and bound to bring up memories of your own travels and experiences as a gaijin. For someone who has only ever visited the metropolitan centres or never been to the land of the rising sun, this is the heart of Japan laid out in approachable and endearing English.

It is, by far, the best book that I have read this year.

Rating: A++

Monday, September 25, 2006

Review: The Courtesan Prince

The Courtesan Prince is the first book in the proposed ten book Okal Rel series by Edge author Lynda Williams.

To give a little background info on the series, Ms. Williams' first manuscript to be published was The Throne Prince, which is actually book four of the series. The Courtesan Prince is her second published work, and where new readers are encouraged to start.

The universe of Okal Rel is something that Ms. Williams has been working on since she was eighteen. (Unless I'm misquoting the age, because I neglected to write it down while speaking to her.) As a result, she's very passionate about her work and her characters. Talking to Lynda is a treat—she's friendly, approachable, and sells herself without seeming to forward or pushy. In fact, it was Lynda who sold me The Courtesan Prince.

The series' first novel is an ambitious work, with many characters and multiple interweaving plotlines. It read, to me, as fantasy set in a science fiction setting. That is, no overwhelming science or dry passages detailing the mechanics of space travel or computer functions. That aspect of the novel makes it very approachable. The science is a crucial element of the setting, but is not what drives the plot.

Ms. Williams has created two complex societies in her novel: the Reetions of Rire, and the Sevolites of Gelion. The Reetions are a demographic, open, accepting society that evolved from humans on Earth. The Sevolities are a monocratic, caste-based society that evolved from genetically engineered individuals who could pilot spacecraft at faster than light speed. Both worlds are rich with history and possess highly developed cultures.

The Courtesan Prince revolves around three principle characters: Von, a Sevolite commoner/courtesan; Ann, a Reetion pilot, and Di Mon, a Sevolite Highlord.

The Reetions are trying to establish a second contact with the Sevolites, and certain Sevolites have conned Von into pretending to be a nobleman at this contact. A case of mistaken identity later, Ann and Von are entangled in a complicated Court plot. Someone wants Von eliminated, and there's a missing prince that other characters are convinced is alive and has been hidden from the ruler of the Sevolites.

Most of the novel was well-written, but there are passages scattered throughout that I had to reread several times before I could grasp their meaning due to awkward syntaxes.

It's a bit of a political space opera romance. Lots of sexual encounters between the lines and paragraphs. Nothing incredibly explicit, although the threat of a gang-bang does occur.

Sex is the major motivation for many of the characters. Who they desire and the conflicts it causes within them and their society drives the major storylines.

It's especially clear in Ann's behavior. Even when she's nobly trying to save Von, it's because she's attracted to him. She calls it love, but the love seems to be heavily dependent on their sexual relations. That's what transcends their cultural barriers. I can respect her courage and her confidence, but I didn't really bond with her character or feel the concern that I should have.

Von undergoes radical personality changes within the manuscript, which are explained, but leave him fluctuating between a gooey mass and a killing machine—it's like Jekyll and Hyde in places. For the most part, Ms. Williams can write this inconsistency consistently.

Di Mon, who I did not like at the beginning of the novel, is the probably the only principle character I did like by the end.

My favorite character was Ayrium, the space pirate. She was a strong, interesting female character who barely graces the screen but steals all of the few scenes in which she features.

The relevance of The Courtesan Prince is obvious. It's dealing with intolerance to other cultures. Both the Reetions and the Sevolities feel the other society is primitive and make little attempt to understand it. There's also the matter of complacent surveillance, which by its non-discussion becomes an issue.

Perhaps the most relevant issue is the extreme homophobic tendencies of the Sevolities. They kill a homosexual man if he is discovered—and his children, as the tendency is believed to be passed down from father to child. With the gay marriage issue in America still a hot topic, The Courtesan Prince presents an eerie description of where such venomous intolerance could lead.

While the novel has many redeeming qualities, I found it overall a challenging read due to abundance of minor characters. It would benefit the novel to include a Dramatis Personae separated into families, with indication of which caste they were. (Perhaps Ms. Williams has included family maps on her website?)

I'm certain that this would be an enjoyable novel and series for many readers. While romance isn't my cup of tea, it was nice to try something different. If nothing else, her novel sparked a lot of discussion. Unfortunately, I don't plan to read any of the other Okal Rel novels.

Rating: C+

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Review: Bleach vol 1

Bleach is Tite Kubo's second comic. His first was the short lived Zombie Powder, which caught my eye four or five years ago when I saw a single chapter of it. Of course, I had no idea what was going on, and having learned what it's about now, I'm still not certain the story was any good. The art, however, was impressive. Sleek and angular.

For being his second series, the first volume of Bleach looks rather awkward. The style hasn't quite solidified—similar to what was happening Nobuhiro Watsuki's Buso Renkin vol 1.

The story concerns a high school student named Ichigo Kurosaki, and how his family is attacked by a "hollow." (Hollows, we find out, are souls turned almost demonic because they have not been given a passing on ceremony that would admit them to the Soul Society.) Ruika Kuchiki is a member of the Soul Society, charged with hunting down Hollows. She attempts to lend some of her Soul Reaper powers to Ichigo so he can save his family, but he absorbs all of her powers. This makes him a Soul Reaper, and until Ruika's powers build back, Ichigo will have to perform her duties for her.

His odd, quirky family provide comedy relief—including a father who routinely beats him up. Ichigo's friends pose as bait, and there's clearly a love interest in the girl Orihime.

Bleach and Buso Renkin strike me as a wonderful compare/contrast project. They have a lot of similiarities. A main protagonist with "unsually" strong undeveloped powers. A female protagonist serving as the mentor who must guide the young male through the trials of his new role in society. (It's an interesting relationship, and I think I'd like to write something with that.) The opening story is so similar in places that I had deja vu reading it.

Buso Renkin uses alchemy, that mix of science and magic—and most of the science in Japanese comics might as well be considered magic when examined realistically—to fuel its world. The monster that are fought are humans transformed through alchemy gone wrong. The weapon that fight the monsters were created by alchemy. The ones responsible to set the world right and protect it are a society of alchemists. Since it was published in 2003, two years after Bleach started, it's possible that Watsuki was influenced by Kubo's series. One could describe Buso Renkin as "Bleach with alchemists."

However, Bleach moves a little slower. It appears to be setting up for a long, long journey of gradual development. (That Viz has already released 16 volumes almost confirms the theory.)

I'll probably read volume two, but I didn't feel the complusion to know what was going to happen, like I did with Buso Renkin.

Rating: B+

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

25

" Today's birthday (Sept. 19). This year, the universe
gives you a positive push -- plenty of "atta boy" and
"you can do it" just when you need it. One goal takes
precedence over the rest in October. You may decide to
move after the holiday season. New work horizons offer
more of what you need. You have fortifying connections
with Cancer and Libra people. Your lucky numbers are:
14, 10, 2, 19 and 5. "

Hmm... does that mean I should start picking agents to query by their sign? Because I'd seriously like some "atta girl"s from someone with the authority to make things happen.

I'm turning 25 every year from now on. People make a big deal about that quarter-century mark.

My friend Rae stopped by at 9 am to drop off a present: a lovely white-rose bangle from Tarina Tarantino and a hardcover notebook. The notebook cover is adorned with Andy Warhol's impossible shoe designs, and the inside features drawings of those lovely fashionistas from the 50s. There's something highly ironic about the whole thing.

A lovely vase of irises appeared on my desk. Cards, emails and phone calls from family members. My Dad and step-mom had balloons delivered, which sounds silly but was delightful nonetheless. Plus, they surprised with a box of six gourmet chocolate-dipped strawberries and four chocolate dipped cookies.

It occurred to me that, despite all the crap my family's been through since my last birthday, I had a good year. A really good year. Maybe all that trauma was necessary to help better appreciate the good times.

I finished two manuscripts in the past 365 days.

Yeah, it doesn't seem like a lot. You hear a lot about writers who can write two books in six months or two months. But these two manuscripts mean a lot to mean. Before them, I'd never finished anything that I felt was worthy of being published. There was manuscripts and stories that my friends enjoyed reading, but they weren't "novel good."

There's still a lot of work to do, but they're better than what I've written before. More importantly, they're complete. I did it, and if no one but me appreciates that, it's okay. Because it was my goal to finish the second manuscript before my 25th birthday and I did.

Of course, this isn't the end. There's still plenty more goals I have to meet and a multitude of things I want to do.

So, here it is, my next big goal: I want to be published before I turn thirty.

Well, really, I want to be published before I turn twenty-five-and-a-half, but one should be realistic about the time frame for these things. ^_~

Friday, September 08, 2006

Drinking Buddies

Originally this scene was written in response to a 500 word challenge that had to begin with the prompt "All I wanted was a drink."

Drinking Buddies
by C. Rooney

“All I wanted was a drink.” He lifted the small lacquer cup. “You don’t have to be so damn suspicious.”

“You never want just a drink,” the other sighed, reaching for the ceramic flask. “You want several drinks and someone to pour them.”

“How astute of you, dear Kannon.”

His eyes, the rich color of liquid honey, took on a more golden hue. Annoyance? Fear of the salarymen around them overhearing? It was never easy to tell. The Sword of Kannon kept to himself—at least until after he’d gotten a flask or so of good sake in him.

“Drink clouds the mind.” Ken eyed his cup. “Polluting one’s body with it is against the teachings of the Buddha.”

“You can cut the Buddhist crap,” Shiro downed the contents. “It’s just us. No one else to impress.”

Ken set down his cup, lacquer tocking against the isakaya table. Tobacco smoke drifted lazily above their heads, flavoring the air with nicotine. It was quiet—late into the night, when all the good boys and girls of Kyoto had gone home.

“Why are we drinking?” He poured Shiro another drink.

“We’re celebrating.” Shiro returned the favor. “Isn’t that the only true reason to drink?”

“It is my experience that sorrow leads to sake more frequently than joy.”

Shiro was silent, letting the sake roll over his tongue and run down his throat. It was liquid foxfire, a burning and untrustworthy guide. Many a man who found his path at the bottom of a flask was as confused as those who wandered off into the fields after the glowing orbs of light.

Good thing neither of them was human.

“Another.” He held up his cup.

Ken’s fair hand over the top of the flask, his skin the color most women paid through the nose trying to achieve with bleaching creams and lotions.

“Something’s happened.” Honey eyes searched Shiro’s face. “What are you trying to drown in rice wine?”

“Nothing. I told you, we’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what? The death of your liver?”

“I’m leaving Japan.” Shiro shrugged. “Orders to set out tomorrow.”

“Leaving Japan?” He blinked. “Where will you go?”

“To follow the box.”

Silence.

With philosophical approaches as different as theirs, a multitude of topics had to be labeled ‘agree to disagree,’ but none killed a conversation faster than the mention of those two words. The item that had caused their introduction and remained their only common interest.

“You’re killing the mood.” Shiro yawned. “Maybe that cute waitress will pour for me, if you want to go home and sulk.”

“Why did you ask this one to accompany you?” Ken asked. “Shouldn’t you wish to spend your last night with your family?”

“Ha, they’re the reason I can’t wait to leave.”

“Then tomorrow brings your freedom.”

“That’s why we’re celebrating tonight.” Shiro leaned forward, elbow on the table, and flashed Ken a teasing grin. “Will you miss me?”

“I won’t miss the hangovers.” Ken leaned forward and refilled Shiro’s cup. “A toast to freedom.”

Kampai.”

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Review: Working for the Devil

It's completely Rachel Vincent's fault that I read this book, and I thank her for having that kind of influence.

First, I had reservations about reading Lilith Saintcrow's first novel in her Dante Valentine series for one simple reason: she named her main character Dante Valentine. You see, I have a character named Valentine and his father is named Dante. So when you combine the two names into one, it causes me to giggle hysterically because it strikes me as absurd.

Happily, I report, I overcame this hang-up and was able to thoroughly enjoy Working for the Devil. Mostly because I was just having too damn much fun reading the book to care what the character was named.

Working for the Devil is a riot. Pure plup goodness that you can zip through in a matter of days. Mmm, if this is urban fantasy, then I can see why it's considered so tasty. Like the chick lit sundae that was The Undomestic Goddess, Working for the Devil is a delightful indulgeance.

Danny Valentine is sexy, tough and over the top. I love her, because she's like a comic book superhero at times, but Ms. Saintcrow balances all of Danny's powers with a rich, twisted past so full of angst she could give Peter Parker a run for his money.

That is where Working for the Devil succeeds. Despite the larger than life characters, it has an equal threat to their powers. The plot is tight and well-done. I didn't find myself more interested in the subcharacters than the narrator, and I wasn't disappointed with the plot twist's revealed. The romantic subplots do what they should—add to the story, not hamper it from moving forward.

Even when Danny gets her "power-up," it's done well. Ms. Saintcrow takes the narrative time to let the impact of what's happened affect Danny. I believe that it's possible for that to happen, and I believe Danny's reaction to what happens.

It's handled almost perfectly. I think it could have been more of an impact to see everything that happened, but the way its been written is probably to mind the length of the story.

Ms. Saintcrow has built her world with such an iron-clad tightness that believability isn't an issue. Even the brand names have been thoughtfully placed to help you breathe the world where Danny resides. It's a hot sci fantasy world—futuristic technology coupled with a strong magic system. If you're leary of science fiction, this would a good primer for you. I promise, there's no hard science that will leave you with a headache.

This book would have flopped if it was third person, because I don't think Danny would inspire the reader to care about her without having them tagging along in her head. That's not a fault of Ms. Saintcrow's writing, it's just a reflection of Danny's character type. Because she's so set on being "tough," she doesn't open up to many people. So she'd be very cold and difficult to relate to were it not for the first person POV. Instead an immediate intimacy is created that inspires the reader to care about an otherwise prickly personality. Bravo, Ms. Saintcrow, for making that technical choice.

I'm a stickler for dialogue, and Working for the Devil is pretty good. The dialogue is believable, and it's fun, too.

I have to admit, there are certain things about the book that bother me. I'm not a fan of characters who think something then verbatim say it aloud in the next few lines. That's just a nitpicky little stylistic detail that most readers aren't even going to bat an eye at.

Occasionally, I questioned why Danny was telling me something. There's one or two spots where the world-building is exposition that doesn't move the plot forward. It's sort of like too much icing, but some people like a lot of icing on their cake, right?

It took about three chapters to really start to connect with the story. I think this is because of how brief those first few chapters were. With the way the world-building is done, you're thrown in headfirst and it takes a chapter or two before you can stay afloat.

The only thing that I could see being added to the book to help would be a glossary to aid with some of the world-terms. I'm still not entirely sure what a couple of the magic types are. It's one of those "I think I understand, but I couldn't explain it to someone else if they asked" problems. I'm assuming this will be clarified in future books.

These are all minor concerns. None of them would prevent me from picking up Dead Man Rising (book 2.) I want to know where Danny's story goes next. I want to know what Rigger Hall is. Most of all, I want to see how Ms. Saintcrow will continue to provide a threatening conflict for Danny after her power-up.

Could this degrade into the silliness that was Simon R Greene's Nightside series? No, I don't think it will. Ms. Saintcrow has already proven that she's better than that.

Rating: A-

Review: Widdershins

For those of you who aren't familiar with Charles de Lint, he is a mythic realism pioneer. (Mythic Realism may be the older sister of Urban Fantasy, with the fantastical elements often being drawn from various mythologies instead of the paranormal.) His stories are well-plotted, beautifully-written and character-driven. The Newford Stories is a collection of his many short-stories all set in the fictional North American city of Newford.

The Onion Girl, his first Newford novel told the backstory of Jilly Coppercorn, painter and well-acquainted with the spirit world. Widdershins isn't so much a sequel as it is a follow-up.

" Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell. Since they were introduced in the first Newford story, Timeskip, back in 1989, their friends and readers alike have been waiting for them to realize what everybody else already knows: that they belong together. But they've been more clueless about how they feel for each other than the characters in When Harry Met Sally. Now in Widdershins, a stand-alone novel of fairy courts set in shopping malls and the Bohemian street scene of Newford's Crowsea area, Jilly and Geordie's story is finally being told.

Before it's over, we'll find ourselves plunged into the rancorous and sometimes violent conflict between the magical North American "animal people" and the more newly-arrived fairy folk. We'll watch as Jilly is held captive in a sinister world based on her own worst memories—and Geordie, attempting to help, is sent someplace even worse. And we'll be captivated by the power of love and determination to redeem ancient hatreds and heal old magics gone sour.

To walk "widdershins" is to walk counterclockwise or backwards around something. It's a classic pathway into the fairy realm. It's also the way people often back slowly into the relationships that matter, the real ones that make for a life. In Widdershins Charles de Lint has delivered one of his most accessible and moving works of his career. " (source: Widdershins book jacket (hardcover edition,) © Tor Books & Charles de Lint, 2006.)

What I love about de Lint is the way that he weaves all of his storylines together, so that each separate story is revealed to be a thread in the larger tapestry. I also adore how he mixes first and third person POV as he tells the story from multiple perspectives. The man is a master of his craft.

Despite that Widdershins depends largely on The Onion Girl for the majority of Jilly's plotline, I think a new reader could join the de Lint world with this book without a great deal of confusion. There's certainly enough new material that the book stands on its own and doesn't read like "part 2 of 2."

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Jilly Coppercorn. While she's an amazingly well-crafted and written character, Jilly was the victim of sexual abuse from her older brother as a child, and that lends a darkness to her plot threads that is a little too black for me.

If you read this book or The Onion Girl, you need to be prepared to go horrible places that have nothing to do with the spirit world—to the dark places within humanity.

Things that happen to Jilly made me very uncomfortable during certain scenes. Since it takes a great deal of skill to inspire that "I'm not certain I can keep reading, I really want to know what happens" feeling in readers, I applaud de Lint for the accomplishment. At the same time, I'd rather not venture to those places on a regular basis. One begins to worry that maybe one won't find her way back.

I prefer Christiana Tree, who was introduced in Spirits in the Wires, and Lizze, the new viewpoint character who's much closer in age to me. These are two of de Lint's best characters. The other would be Galfreya, the fey who holds court after-hours in a shopping mall. de Lint has packed Widdershins with fantastically well-conceived reinventions of the fairy folk in modern times. Oh, and the Crow Girls play a bigger role in this than the other two novels. (Who doesn't love the Crow Girls?)

Put a de Lint book on your reading list—if you're not certain Widdershins is where you want to start, then I highly recommend Spirits in the Wires. It's brilliant, it's modern, and it's the best use of the internet in a fantasy novel that I've come across. (Plus, it's low on Jilly Coppercorn drama.)

Rating:
The Onion Girl: B
Spirits in the Wires: A+
Widdershins: A

Friday, September 01, 2006

This is why kids are great



I don't know who this little gentleman is, all I know is he—without prompting—went up and touched this replica stargate just as I was going to take a picture of it for someone. So what should have been a boring "hey look at this" photo was transformed into a really fun moment.

Kids are magic that way.

And on that note, we bid WorldCon 2006 farewell. Who's coming to World Fantasy Convention 2008 in Calgary?

WC2006 Panel Notes: The Care and Feeding of the Creative Process

Panelists: James Stanley Daughterty, Stephen Leigh, Laura Ann Gilman (moderator.)
This panel, as great as it was, lacked certain illuminations. Some personal notes have been added to elaborate, since the panelists had a limited time.

• Don't wait for your muse, go out and get it.
I find a Metaphorical Net to be useful. My muse's stupid tweaky ears get caught in it every time. Works great. Just open the coffee ground canister to lure him over....

• Deadlines can be muses.
Thus, set some for yourself. This would be why I have a schedule of when each chapter must be completed by, and a final completion date for the draft. After all, we who aren't sold or contracted yet don't have publisher-imposed deadlines.

• Writer's block is two things: fear and distraction.
A lot of writer's fear success almost as much as they fear rejection. So "oh, I have a creative block" becomes a subconscious excuse not to have to finish anything. After all, if nothing is finished, then you have no risk of having to do anything with it.

•Logistic issues can also cause blocks.
Is there something wrong or inconsistent that you've consciously forgotten? Go back and reread/revision what you have written in order to check. But don't fall into the trap of endless revision! Remember the key is finishing something.

• Write something—anything. Remember nothing is set in stone: that's why it's called a "draft."
Also, write something every day. Even if it's just two paragraphs. Even if it's only for 15 minutes. Writing everyday builds a writing habit.

• Blockage can also happen when you subconsciously write yourself into a corner.

• Keep visual stimulation coming in.
Go outside. Read a book. Watch a movie. Talk to your friends. We write from what we know, and if we don't keep the well of inspiration filled we run the risk of draining it dry.

• Set up boundaries with the people you live with and yourself. When are you working? When are you not working? Do you have visual clues to establish this?

• Have a ritual that determines when you're working.

• Play music—tell yourself you have to write until the playlist/CD runs out.

• Know thyself: know how you work and what distracts/interrupts that flow.
For example, with FH I made the switch from nighttime writer to daytime writer. I found it was better for me to get up and accomplish as much of my job as I could before writing, and that I did best when I didn't write before trying to sleep. It allowed my brain to calm and I had a more restful night. I know that DiR is a terrible distraction, so I do my entries before I start writing for the day. This year I learned to turn off my email and IM before starting to write.

• Being a writer involves necessary selfishness.
You have to make the time to write, regardless of family and friends trying to engage you.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

WC2006 Panel Notes: Is "Realistic Fantasy" an Oxymoron?

Panelists: David Keck, Ellen Klages, Robin Wayne Bailey, James Gurney, and Tim Powers (moderator.)

The keys to "realistic fantasy" are realism and believability. How can you accomplish this?
• Try to limit the number of fantastical elements is one way.
• A better way is to ensure that your "real world" details are accurate.
Do your research.
• For example, when swords contact their metal surfaces become knicked and dented.
• Your research creates "the stage." That's how you build your set pieces.
• Exercise restraint and don't cheat on the details.
• Use "props" to get descriptions right.
• Draw floor plans.
• Draw simple scene plans for spatial comprehension.
• Use photo books for foreign places if you haven't visited them.
• Your reader needs the set-up to be believable. So have them buy the world so that when the fantasy enters, they just go with it.
• The goal is to create that numinous feeling—the sense that "I think I remember this from a dream I had as a kid."
• We want to believe, so use that desire to draw in your reader.

The most important piece of advice: Read broadly so you can write broadly. The panel warned against becoming one of those writers who only reads the genre they write. This puts you at a disadvantage. Read everything you can—including non-fiction.

+

Panel: Editing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Panelists: Peter S Beagle, Laura Ann Gilman, Betsy Mitchell, and Tim Powers (moderator)

Um, this is the panel where I spent most of the time trying to decide how best not to sound like an idiot when I tried to ask Betsy Mitchell about Del Rey submissions afterwards, what I was going to say—if anything—to Peter S Beagle, and tried not to let the rude person beside me touch me. So I barely took any notes for this one...

• Don't make your characters stupid for the sake of the plot.
• Spelling and grammar in your manuscript are very important.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WC2006 Panel Notes: The Business of Writing

Speakers: Gay Haldeman (moderator,) Rebecca Moesta, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Eleaner Wood, Kevin J. Anderson.

I'm trying to translate my hasty scrawlings into something literate, so most of these are point form. If I've misunderstood something, hopefully one of my kind readers can clarify it in the comments?

Book contracts
These often contain common "mousetraps." An agent works to help you avoid those traps. The panel discussed the following points:
• Hold on to your rights. This includes audio and translation rights, as well as distribution/printing in other countries (like the UK, for example.)
Royalties—sometimes you can negotiate for more, but not always. Smaller press publishers may not.
• It's always good to sell a license to the publisher instead of selling them the rights, if possible. That means you retain ownership of your work, but they have purchases "permission" to use/print it.
• Consider selling your book, then getting an agent. But don't sign anything—an agent can't help you if you've already entered into a contract.
• Read all your contracts carefully. Have a professional go over them with you.
• The proper response to a publisher's offer is "thank you, I'll have my agent talk to you."
• Out of print rights—try to have the rights of publication returned to you when your book goes out of print. (Then you can try to resell if you want.)
• Be wary of the Print on Demand Clause that is often worked into contracts now. It allows a publisher to let a book go out of print, then retain the rights so they can print more of the book if/when there is a demand.

Advances
Treat writing as a business. When you sell your first book, you have just started your own small business. So know how to do your taxes. (Sorry, all of this is American Tax information. I don't have any figures for Canadian or European.)
• Your advance is against your profits. It is a "front." The majority of publishers will not hand over a cheque for your selling amount when you sell the book.
• Advances can be broken up into many payments upon meeting certain goals like:
- Signing the contract
- Submitting a manuscript outline
- Submitting the manuscript
- Release of the hardback
- Release of the paperback
- One year after the release of the paperback
• So it's very important to budget.
• Set aside money for taxes. Put this money in an account that you cannot touch.
• Now for some math:
Let's say you sell a book for $10,000. Your agent takes 15% (or $1500, which is deductible) and 25-30% is paid in taxes ($2500–$3000.) You really only make $5500–6000 for your book.
• You're taxed on the amount you receive in one fiscal year.
• Look into foreigner exemption when the rights to your manuscript sell in other countries.
• Your publisher will give you a 1099 report form. This is necessary for tax purposes.
• You can consider incorporating—applying for a tax ID—but shouldn't do it until you start making a profit.
• Con(ferences) are deductible, so save your receipts.
• If you can show rejection slips, you can possibly prove intent to be published and write things off. Someone said you can do an indefinite show of losses.
• Sales reps decide your advance, based on how much they estimate your manuscript can make the publisher.
• Don't go crazy with your advance. Don't change your lifestyle or start massive spending. Make the money last as long as you can.
• Put money aside.
• Invest in GICs (sorry, not sure if that's what they're called in the States,) stocks, etc.

Royalties
• Most royalties average 7%–8%. (I was told 10% by a smaller publisher, because they aren't selling by volume. With them you traded a smaller print run for a larger royalty percentage.)
• Simon & Schuster was mentioned as being really awful about paying royalties on time.
• In October and May you get a royalty statement from your publisher.
• These statements cover December–June, and June–December.

Promotion
Your publisher will want the book to sell itself.
• "You are responsible for your own career."
• Large publishing houses only give the top 5% of their books advertising budgets.
• Advertising is expensive, so you want to work on promotion. Write press releases, try to get interviews and local exposure.
• Do a Drive By Signing. Go into your local bookstore and offer to sign copies of your work. Talk to the owners and managers to arrange signings, contest, etc.
• Turn your books on the shelves so they're "cover out."
• Romance writers were always expected to do their own advertising. So they're great to pick the brains of. Ask a romance writer for promotion advice.
The best promotion you can do: write the next book. Keep going and looking forward. Don't fixate on a single book—remember, you're building a career.

Final Words of Advice
• Have a website/web-presence. Yes, a blog counts!
Look at Rachel Vincent, she's already got many of us foaming at the mouth for Stray, and it doesn't come out until summer 2007.
A small print run and lack of distribution will kill your book.
• Don't let your blog take away from your writing time.

Monday, August 28, 2006

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Sunday

Cons are exhausting.

That's a note for y'all. If you ever want to meet me at a con, try to do it within the first day of my arrival. Unless it's the hypothetical situation where I'm a panelist and you want a book signed. Then show up whenever. In fact, if the hypothetical situation occurs and I am a panelist in the future, I want the power to invite someone fanatical enough to dress as one of my characters to join the panel.

I think a cosplay posse would be fantastic. (Anyone looking for ideas for the 2007 masquerade? Boy, have a got an ensemble of characters for you. Several sets, actually.) Scary, yes, but fantastic.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Sunday. Right. My friend Rae came out to WorldCon for the day. Here's her blog about it. I think she accurately describes my mental state at 9:00 am Sunday morning.

The first panel we attended together. It was "What is it about Buffy?" It was an interesting panel, but the panelists had already been set a prepared set of questions by the moderator so it operated more like a lecture. Still it was well-done, and brought up a lot of thought-provoking points. I would consider it an example of a good fan panel.

Afterwards, Rae and I parted ways. She went to the Firefly panel and I went to the Battlestar Galatica panel. Unfortunately, the BSG panel served as my example of a bad fan panel. It started well, with a trailer for season three and the disclosure that not all of the characters were going to make it to season four. Then the floor was opened up for questions.


Eugenia Home came wearing her uniform
recreated from the original BSG series.


Now, for a show with such intelligent writing, there were some really odd questions being asked. If you ever find yourself a Q & A fan panel, I suggest you sit close to the stage so you can see the looks the panelists give each other before they try to answer questions like:

1) When they get to Earth, will there be a conflict between their polytheist society and our monotheist society?

2) Since the first show was really black and white about who was the bad guys and who was the good guys and this show is very gray, don't you think with all the threats of today the show should be more black and white about who are the bad guys and who are the good guys?

3) Where are the accountants and auditors in the show? I want to see a Cylon auditor show up on New Caprica and give someone an audit. That would make the show real for me.

I would just like to point out that these were all very serious questions. If the third was meant to be a joke, the poser of the question really needs to work on their delivery.

After our panels, I took Rae to the Dealer's room to meet Brian Hades. That sparked a lovely conversation which caused us to miss the other panels we planned to see, but I think it was well worth it. That's what cons are supposed to be about, aren't they? Have interesting conversations with interesting people?

Rae and I concluded our day by attending a K.A. Bedford reading from Hydrogen Steel. It sounds interesting and he did an excellent job of reading.

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Saturday

Saturday started out right: with a vanilla latte.

Oh, and Saturday I hunted clues and tried to solve the mystery of "why do I keep getting bored halfway through all certain panels and not others?" I solved that mystery Sunday.

The first panel was "Is 'Realistic Fantasy' an Oxymoron?" I thought it meant realistic fantasy as in contemporary/modern fantasy/urban fantasy/mythic realism. Um... not really, no. 3/5 panelists had never written any modern fantasies and wanted to discuss people not having done their research about medieval medicine. Tim Powers and Ellen Klages, who had written urban fantasy, were funny. David Keck was also very entertaining.

The next panel was "Editing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly." I thought this would be about the editing process—a "how to," if you will. It was more a gossip session about editors and writers. A little bit of information, but one really had to search. That's ok, because of two things:

1) As Peter S Beagle signed my copy of The Last Unicorn, his girlfriend told me I had a pretty name.

2) I got to introduce myself to Betsy Mitchell, an editor at Del Rey. Once she realized I wasn't going to try to stick a manuscript in her hands—do your research, people! Del Rey doesn't take unsolicited manuscripts—she was cool about answering a few questions I had regarding the Del Rey submission process. (Yes, via Agents only. Yes, the agent should know which editor to address the submission to. Yes, they're doing original English language manga. Yes, an anime influenced novel sounds interesting and would be something they might want to look at.)

Oh, this was also the panel were some obnoxious man who smelt like he'd not showered since arriving at the Con (Wednesday) came in late and decided he should sit next to me. Then that, fifteen minutes later, he should leave. Then that, twenty minutes after that, he should return and proceed to fall asleep during the panel. Were it not bad enough that I was almost sitting in the aisle to prevent him from sleeping against me, he snored. Just as I thought that the panel needed to end or I was going to stab him with my pen, he woke up and began to obnoxiously contradict and "correct" the panelists during the last few questions they answered. Of course, he was ignored.

The afternoon panel I attended was "The Care and Feeding of the Creative Process." It offered some good info, but not really anything I hadn't already heard in college or from other writers. Notes about this panel:

1) Laura Ann Gilman is a riot.

2) There was a mini-panel held previous to the panel between some of us in the audience. A new writer had come with hopes of getting advice. At the end of our mini-panel, she informed me that I'd given her better advice than the official panelists.

After this, I stopped by the Trailer Park, to check out all the movie trailers they were offering. I was gifted a pack of Scientology—I mean L. Ron Hubbard playing cards upon entering. Movie trailers of note:

1) Flushed Away—by the folks who did Wallace & Grommit
2) Ratatouille—a movie about a gourmet-loving rat in Paris.
3) The Prestige: Batman and Wolverine duke it out to be the greatest magician in um...olde-timey time. Batman can do real magic, Wolverine can't. I'm going on record right now: I declare the twist to be Christian Bale is a demon. Surprise me, movie. It'd be nice if something could.
4) Spiderman 3: I swear this was longer on the internet.
5) Transformers: Not just robots in disguise. Robots in disguise living on Mars!
6) Neil Gaiman's Stardust is going to kick ass.

It was dinner with my roommate and two of her friends after that, and no, I did not go to the Hugos. Instead I went to the Asian Film room and watched the majority of Death Trance. Which is a $3 million beautifully constructed cinematic Japanese bit of action swordplay that I think was about a coffin containing the goddess of destruction. It kind of had a non-ending, but hey, it was pretty to watch and had good-looking Japanese men. And um... vampire ninja spider monster thingies. Watch it sometime if you have a chance to see it for free. It's a good 2 hours of mindless entertainment, which I needed.

Oh, and I rode the elevator up with one of the women from the award-winning Harmony and Discord Masquerade ensemble (that was the fairy girls with the fantastic butterfly wings.) Let me just say, her costume up close was amazing. She was the one with the black and white harlequin-esque one, complete with mask and blue wig. Really lovely person, too, she said they never expected to win, they just wanted to put something together to have on stage.

WorldCon 2006 Recap: Friday

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig. Ok, I was actually home last night. We left around 4:00. (No, I did not go to the closing ceremonies.) Let's do a little overview, and I plan to do separate posts of information gleaned from the panels—which I kept mistakingly referring to as "seminars" all weekend.

Friday
The arrival to the Anaheim Hilton was delayed. Not wishing to enter "Culture Building 101" halfway through, and not entirely sure where to find it, instead I went to the dealer's room with hopes of finding Edge Publications.

The dealer room was large, packed with people, and reminded me a little of the pre-Christmas Arts and Crafts sales held in the arena of my various Canadian hometowns. There was that sort of feel to it. Artisans hawking their wares, the promise of finding a distinct, hand-crafted treasure. Except this was the first Arts and Craft Sale I've ever been to that had people in Star Trek uniforms.

I managed to locate Edge via spotting a large poster for Rebecca K. Rowe's Forbidden Cargo. If you have not read this book, open a new browser window and go order it off Amazon. It remains one of my most-loved reads this year. (Ok, it's sharing the spot with Charles de Lint's Widdershins and Sophia Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess.)

The wonderful people at the Edge booth made this convention. I have never felt so welcome. It was much like visiting family. Ok, in the back of your mind you start to wonder if you're distracting them from other important tasks like doing the laundry, but it's hard to leave such a friendly and inviting atmosphere. So thank you to Brian and Anita Hades for being such gracious hosts.

Anita introduced me to my roommate, Heidi Lampietti the editor at Red Jack Books.

I spoke with Lynda Williams, whose actions revealed some important insights into promotion: just be yourself. Lynda's passion for her Okal Rel Saga and readiness to discuss it with anyone was one of the key reasons that I decided to give her first book, The Courtesan Prince, a try.

Brian appeared shortly after that, and we had a wonderful conversation. Let me tell you, there is no bigger confidence boost than when someone seems excited to find out you brought them a synopsis.

Brian introduced me to Rebecca K. Rowe. She's probably one of the coolest authors I've met. Not only has she been to Japan, but she's lived in Paris, too. Go read Forbidden Cargo, because she's working on the sequel.

I did make it to one panel Friday: The Business of Writing. After that, I ate some delicious sushi at the sushi bar in the Hilton.

The Masquerade was ok. Some beautiful costumes.

A brief stop by the Anime Room afterwards made the raw children's anime party look good. That was the party where the only people who weren't staying in the room or friends of the person staying in the room, was my friend for the evening, Kara, and I.

Then we stopped by the takoyaki party. That's...uh...fried squid-tentacle thingies.

Hang on, a little backstory: I hate squid balls. Imagine putting something in your mouth that's soft and vaguely tastes of egg, only to crunch into a devious hunk of squid tentacle that's lurking in the center.

I now hate takoyaki for a whole other reason. Being handed something with no warning that putting it in your mouth will sear your flesh is not very nice, Daicon 07.

Aren't you guys thrilled that I make myself look stupid on a regular basis? Who else provides you with such exquisite writing material?

Highlights of Friday:
1) Meeting Rebecca K Rowe and Lynda Williams
2) Seeing the lovely people of Edge
3) Sushi
4) Beautiful costumes at the Masquerade
5) Being informed that I was the "most normal person" someone had met all day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Review: Buso Renkin vol 1

Those who know me well, are probably aware of the deep affection I feel for Nobuhiro Watsuki's brilliant masterpiece Rurouni Kenshin. I adored the manga,and let's just say I was very unhappy when it finally reached the end of its North American release in July, 2006.

Viz, always looking to profit, announced it had the rights to distribute an English version of Watsuki-sensei's Buso Renkin, and the first volume was released this month.

Now, I had my reservations. I wasn't overlly impressed by the preview that appeared in the final volume of RuRoKen. The dialogue seemed sloppy, and the art seemed to lack the cohesion of the Kenshin series.

Buso Renkin first appears to be very different from Rurouni Kenshin. RuRoKen is a beautifully constructed historical manga set in the Meiji Era with stong undertones of romance, morality, and redemption. It's a very mature series. Buso Renkin is set in modern day, with high school students. It's aim seems to be for a younger audience.

If you're going to read Buso Renkin, you have to leave your disbelief at the front cover. The first volume opens with the "death" of protagonist, Kazuki Muto. This somewhat silly "space cadet" is then pulled into a world of monsters and monster hunters that exists within our own. Sounds typical, yes? Did I mention that the root of these monsters isn't paranormal, but scientific? Rather, as "scientific" as Alchemy ever is in Japanese comics.

Watsuki has jumped on the Alchemy craze that swept through Japanese comics—started by Full Metal Alchemist, no doubt.

This isn't a knock-off comic, though. He's created a personal science that functions well with the story, and helps to create conflict. The villains in the book are humans-turned-monsters, each based on an animal or plant. This leads to varied and interesting character designs.

Not to spoil what happens, but the first book is hardly the slow-paced general introduction that most first volumes are. Watsuki immediately kicks the story into gear, creating a time-limit and sense of urgency for his first arc. This urgency motivates Kazuki and we can already see his character developing.

Kazuki's lovable, light-hearted and a bit of an idiot. He pulls it together for a fight, but Watsuki remains true to the character and has Kazuki get his ass handed back to him a few times. True, he has the standard "will become a great warrior" thing going, but Kazuki's going to have to make that happen.

He's partnered with Tokiko, a "warrior woman" character that Watsuki has always wanted to write. (He's personally referred to her as a female Battousai, and I can see the similarity.) She's cold, vicious, and appears heartless. When appropriate, Watsuki shows her softer side. Tokiko, quite frankly, kicks a lot of ass and manages to look ridiculously cool regardless of the fact that her weapon is called the "Valkyrie Skirt."

Other characters are Kazuki's roommates and his sister, Mahiro. So far their main purpose has been comedic relief, or to act as bait. They're necessary, but they're mostly there to move the story along. The main protagonists are clearly Kazuki and Tokiko. Their interactions are the most dynamic, and I look forward to watching their relationship as "Alchemist Warrior" and "Alchemist Warrior Apprentice" grow and change.

Volume one ends with a conclusion to the first small arc, but doesn't resovle the main conflict that's introduced. This leaves readers hungry for more, while giving them an appropriate place to pause until October (when volume 2 will be released.)

The rough start smooths out to an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an effective threat to the characters that provides a believable motivation. A promising start, and I look forward to seeing where Watsuki takes Kazuki and Tokiko in future volumes.

Rating: A