Thursday, February 28, 2008

Not Blogging Much (in case you can't tell)

Things have remained really busy. The Effective Viewpoint Workshop has kept me hopping with up to 20 people participating (not everyone made it through to the end), so there have been assignments to critique and discussions to respond to. There are certainly parts that were a stretch for me--anyone who's hung out here for long knows I'm not generally a great fan of omni, for example, so it was interesting to try to teach it! The workshop ended up going deeper into every facet of viewpoint than I'd originally anticipated and I learned a lot during the month as well, as much from the participants as from the study I'd done in preparation.

In March, the baton goes back over to Margaret, who is preparing a workshop on preparing a submission package. As she provided backup for me in February, so I anticipate doing the same for her in March. Besides, I want to work on the package for Quest to be Queen, which I finally pulled out of mothballs yesterday and made a bit of progress on. I really want to finish it up and get it out to critters in March. It's soooooo close to ready; I just need a few days where I can buckle down and focus.

On the home front, hubby's new job is going fairly well. It's good to have him home every evening, and we've started (slowly) making progress on the kitchen again. Electrical takes precedence right now. A few more plug-ins in the *finished* end of the kitchen would be useful, but I'm already enjoying under-cabinet lighting.

It's been good having him home for calving this year. So far we've had six births (and lost one), eight to go. We've had way more snow this winter than average, and that's making the pasture hard for the cows to get around in. If the driveway is any indication, it's not long until the pasture also will become a mud pit. Why does brown season have to come between white season and green season? I'm so very ready for spring, but at least the snowdrops are starting to bloom against the south side of the house. They're hiding behind a snowbank, but they're there!

24 years ago this evening I was nine months pregnant. I recall cooking supper and telling hubby that I was having false labor. He asked, quite reasonably, why I thought it was false. I told him that I had no intention of being in labor for more than six hours and that the baby wouldn't be born until the next day. Hubby is certain to this day that I willed the child to be born on February 29th, but honestly--nine months pg--24 hours--how could I miss?

Sure enough, it went away, only to return in the morning. After about 80 minutes of labor, I gave birth to our second child, a boy, who has carried the dubious honor of being a Leap Year Baby all these years.

Happy Birthday to Joel

who is currently traipsing around South America with his lovely wife, Jen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hoar Frost

This brief essay is written in second person pov as a nod to the Effective Viewpoint Workshop we're running this month at Forward Motion

Since you started walking to somewhere, you've been dropping off your husband at work every morning--you start an hour later than he does--and, once you've parked the car behind the shop, you head out for a brisk walk. You pull your knitted headband low over your forehead and ears and tug on your fleece gloves. It's a cold one today, and you're glad you grabbed the coat that goes to your knees. It will help keep your thighs from going numb.

A damp fog settled over the valley last night, and the visibility is still low. It's not dangerous to walk, though, so long as you watch out for patches of ice. Yesterday's temperatures got several degrees above freezing, and the resulting melt-off was shocked to a halt overnight, icing over wherever it happened to be.

The air is crisp, smelling of wood smoke and frost, as you hike north on eleventh avenue, up the hill. Hoar frost graces every strand of nature. The shrub on your right has feathery fronds that reach heavenward, each minute hair delicately crisped with white. The cedar up the block, the pine across from it--each needle accentuated.

This chain link fence is utilitarian and normally slinks in the background. Today you marvel at the precision of the stark white grids, blazoning its presence. The wrought iron on the fence down the block is also covered with white crystals, giving it a fuzzy appearance.

Your cheeks and chin and nose are burning with cold, but when you cover them with your gloved hands, your glasses fog up, rendering you blind. You pause a moment, unsure of your footing until you can see again.

Your attention is caught by birds fluttering and chirping, so you hurry around the corner to see what they're excited about. You stop in awe at the sight of a mountain ash tree**, delicately painted in white frost, every twig, every clump of red berries frosted over. A bird feeder hangs from a branch, and the LBBs* are having the best time swooping from ground to feeder and back again, chittering with each other as they go.

Intended walking route forgotten, you catch a glimpse around the next corner and head over to see what new marvels await. You're so glad you did, for a majestic weeping willow stands streaming with tails of frost, hundreds upon thousands of them, each delicately outlined. In the corner of the yard, a clump of ornamental grasses at least ten feet tall has never looked as festive as it does today.

Beauty is all around you, and even though you can't wait for spring, you can't help but treasure this morning walk.

*LBBs are otherwise known as Little Brown Birds.

**Mountain Ash

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Book Tour--The Shadow and Night--Day 2

The reason that the prologue is present in Chris Walley's novel is that the history of all this world matters. For twelve thousand years (can you imagine that time frame? I sure can't!) a barrier has kept Evil away from the Made Worlds.

And we're not just talking major evil here. We're talking teensy tiny baby evil. In the first chapter, Merral has a shocking suspicion about his uncle. It almost seems--though it can't be possible--that his uncle might have told a LIE! Inconceivable! People don't lie any more. They don't do any wrong. They haven't done wrong for twelve thousand years.

I pause a moment while you think about the repercussions of that premise.

Now, let's switch gears and talk about fiction. Fiction pretty much demands good guys and bad guys. We are cautioned, as writers, against making our main characters too perfect. Readers can't identify with flawless characters.

So if the premise of your novel actually DEPENDS upon a perfect world and perfect characters, what's a writer to do? In The Shadow and Night, Chris Walley chose to show the perfection. This sets up a slow beginning. It pretty much has no option at that stage.

So now, by page 485, Merral and company have engaged Evil several times. And the action is getting rolling.

I wrestle with this. I think I would have tried to send this story idea back where it came from as impossible to pull off. I'm not completely sure Chris Walley DID pull it off, but I have to say, hat's off to him for a valiant effort. This is a really tough story to make work.

And honestly, I'm sure I'll finish it in the next few days. Because now I want to. I did get another 50 pages or so read last night.

So, this is a Christian novel, but is the concept of future human perfection (outside of heaven itself) really a Christian idea? Blogger John Otte presented a Millenial Primer on his post Monday.

For folks like me, who don't hold a passionate viewpoint on End Times Theology, it was helpful to be reminded of the various theological positions. It's been a long time since my Bible School Days. My personal opinion on that is God's gonna do it how God's gonna do it. Obviously some folks are going to be wrong in their beliefs because they don't all agree. So I say, we need to be ready for whatever the future holds and let God play it out the way He will do it. (So my personal opinion boils down to...whatever...!)

Is it theologically and physically possible for evil to be banished for twelve thousand years? I don't really think so. But science fiction is all about taking the world as we know it and extrapolating with a specific bias. What if...there was a golden age? As anyone who has read the Bible can attest, it's not laid out in a tidy outline that connects all the dots. There's plenty of room for imagination. And while mine wouldn't have taken me where Chris Walley's took him, there's no reason not to go along for the ride.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book Tour --The Shadow and Night

It must be a record for me to only have blogged twice in between book tours, but there you have it. It's been crazy busy and it ain't over yet.

So when this fat hardcover novel arrived in my mailbox I wasn't as excited as I would have liked to be. 612 pages. That's a lot of book when your head is barely above water!
Furthermore, the cover to The Shadow and Night looks very old school, like a 60s era science fiction. And yet, in the upper right hand corner it says: A fantasy in the tradition of C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkein. Science fiction? Fantasy? Which is it?

The cover copy leans toward science fiction:
Imagine a future that today's generation can only dream of. A trillion people live under the gentle rule of the Assembly on over a thousand Made Worlds. Peace and stability have reigned for nearly twelve thousand years, and war and evil are merely ancient history. But all that is about to change.

On Farholme--a Made World at the edge of the Assembly--strange and troubling things are happening. Slowly, incredulously, a handful of men and women come to recognize the unthinkable: Evil has returned once more and it must be fought. Forester Merral D'Avanos and his friends are entrusted with the daunting task of confronting their world's elusive enemy.

Now isolated from the rest of the Assembly, Farholme must fight its battles alone. It falls to Merral to lead the untried forces of Farholme into war against opponents well-hidden and armed with strange powers. Yet even as he faces extraordinary and terrifying foes, Merral finds he has an unexpected enemy--himself.

Definitely science fiction. So I'm a little confused about why the hat-tip to the fantasy works of Lewis and Tolkein. Sure, lots of us read across both genres, but they aren't really the same thing, though the lines blur at times. This book isn't blurry in that way. It's sf.

I'll be honest. I had trouble getting into this story, and I'm not sure it was only because of how busy my life is. I want to talk about the basic premise of the novel tomorrow, and that's where we'll get into whether or not it could have been written any other way.

The prologue--which I'm rarely fond of--is pretty much a historical data dump from twelve thousand years before the story opens, with an omniscient, active narrator. It starts with:


This is the tale of how, at last, evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D'Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.

But to tell Merral's tale we must begin with the Seeding of the planet of Farholme in the year of our Lord 3140...(etc)

And it goes on for five pages with the history of the Assembly. Could the story be done without it? Honestly, I think it could have. I think it would have been stronger to just put us in Merral's world and reveal bits of the history as it became relevant.

That's just me. I do not know yet why I care about Merral, or even if I ever will. So I don't much care--yet--how his world came into being.

So let's skip the prologue! :P Chapter one starts like this:
Merral Stefan D'Avanos crested the snow-flecked ridge in the northeastern corner of Menaya, the vast northern continent of Farholme, and reigned in his mount. The winter's sun had just set in a great stained sphere of orange gold. He stared at the expanse of gray hills and darker, mist-filled valleys stretching northward to the ice-edged needles of the ramparts of the Lannar Crater.

Above the Rim Ranges, layer upon layer of cloud strands gleamed every shade between yellow and purple in the dying sunlight. Merral tried to absorb all he could of the sights, sounds, and smells of dusk. Down below the ridge, away to his right, crows preparing to roost were wheeling noisily around a pine tree. Far to his left, there was a moving, snuffling grayness under the edges of the birch forests that he knew was a herd of deer. Hanging in the cold fresh air was the smell of winter, new trees, and a new earth.

The beauty of it moved Merral's heart, and he raised his head and cried out with joy, "To the Lord of all worlds be praise and honor and glory and power!"

The words echoed briefly and a gust of wind out of the north dragged them away, down through the trees and bare rocks.

Silent in awed worship, he sat there for long minutes until another chill gust made him shiver, as much in anticipation of actual cold. He bent down to his horse. "Now, Graceful," he murmured, "good girl, onward."

This isn't my favorite type of opening, starting with description. And thus began several weeks of reading a bit here and bit there, when I had time because the story didn't rivet me.

NOW I am on page 440 of the aforementioned 612 and yes, I am interested in Merral and his story. It took awhile--almost 150 pages, to be honest, that I wouldn't have got through if it wasn't for the fact of a book tour coming. So tomorrow we'll talk about the book premise and whether or not the story could be told any other way. I'm not sure it could.

Meanwhile, have a look at what some of my tour-mates are saying about this novel by Chris Walley.

Brandon Barr, Jim Black, Justin Boyer, Grace Bridges, Jackie Castle, Carol Bruce Collett , CSFF Blog Tour, Gene Curtis, D. G. D. Davidson, Chris Deanne, Janey DeMeo, Jeff Draper, April Erwin, Marcus Goodyear, Rebecca Grabill , Jill Hart, Katie Hart, Michael Heald, Timothy Hicks , Christopher Hopper, Heather R. Hunt, Jason Joyner, Kait, Carol Keen, Mike Lynch, Margaret, Rachel Marks, Shannon McNear, Melissa Meeks, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Mirtika or Mir's Here, Pamela Morrisson, Eve Nielsen, John W. Otte, John Ottinger , Deena Peterson, Rachelle, Steve Rice, Ashley Rutherford, Chawna Schroeder, James Somers, Rachelle Sperling, Donna Swanson, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Robert Treskillard, Jason Waguespac, Laura Williams, Timothy Wise

Friday, February 08, 2008

Yep. I'm THIS busy!

It's been a crazy week, and I'm suspecting the whole month may look this way.

At the moment the first week of the Effective Viewpoint Workshop is finishing up at Forward Motion. We've got 18 participants getting into hands-on exploration of the tools of point-of-view. So sure, we may still wind up using multiple third person past for most of our writing, but at least we will know how to make it a conscious decision instead of having only a default!

Next month Mar and I are running a workshop on query packages, including the dread synopsis. You have to be a member at FM to join in, but there's no cost.

Aside from the workshop (Monday and Tuesday there was nothing *aside* from the workshop; I practically breathed the darn thing!), I've been working on my opening scenes for the Genesis contest, both The Girl Who Cried Squid and the romance, Joy Comes in the Morning. I've got a working copy of both now and some critiques happening. The contest consists of the first fifteen pages, so that's a reasonable amount of pages to prep up.

Sadly, that's left Teagren and Quest to be Queen sitting on the sidelines. But on my walk this morning I thought through a major issue that I'd seen lurking in the background of the story and discovered a solution I think will work. Once I got to work I popped my insights into a document so that I won't forget. It could easily be a couple weeks yet before I get enough focus to deal with it in the novel itself.

Part of the problem is that the story originally came from a group of random exercises looped together. When I decided there was enough plot linking them to create a novel, I kept a few too many of the old parts. Worked great in the linked exercises, but didn't quite pull through at novel length. If I get rid of one major holdover, it frees up the ending to being something more logical. The previous version came a little forced. So now I'm looking forward to getting back to it. The cool thing is that even though I've finished revising most of the novel, it will only take a few lines tucked in here and there to twist towards the new ending.

But first I have to get my contest entries finalized and out, and keep the workshops humming. First things first!