Thursday, September 28, 2006
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,"
"I'll put you in the pictures."
Then his knife-teeth are in your throat,
and you're in pictures of the dreamless dead.
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
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 yearsan 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 blossomsakurais 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.
Monday, September 25, 2006
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 treatshe'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 machineit'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 discoveredand 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.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
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.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
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
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.”
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.”
Saturday, September 02, 2006
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.
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 memoriesand 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 listif 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.)
The Onion Girl: B
Spirits in the Wires: A+
Friday, September 01, 2006
Kids are magic that way.
And on that note, we bid WorldCon 2006 farewell. Who's coming to World Fantasy Convention 2008 in Calgary?
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.