Saturday, 31 October 2015

Chapelwood


Chapelwood is Cherie Priest's sequel to Maplewood: The Borden Dispatches which was a re-imagining of the Liz Borden axe murder case as a Cthulhu Gothic Cosmic horror story.  I reviewed it here.

I will say that this sequel is real ballsy.  By that I mean Cherie Priest takes the hero of her first novel and runs the story forward thirty years.  That takes real authorial courage.  It would've been so much easier for her to say one year later or five years later and have Lizzie start another adventure involving swinging an axe at the minions of the Great Old Ones.

I enjoyed the way the novel unfolds in a languid fashion, slowly building the suspense by showing us the transformation of the South in the 1890s through to the 1920s.  I felt that I actually learnt something about the craft of writing from reading this book.  The way the sentences were broken down to counter balance the pace of the story which evolves through the different character viewpoints; some new and some old.  The story blurs protagonist and antagonist and there's a real feel of Lovecraftian horror where knowledge is not power but damnation.

I love it.  The story ends in a manner that felt true to the mythos, reminding me of when I used to play Call of Cthulhu RPG and the heroes ended up changed, scarred by their experiences.  It will be interesting to see where Cherie Priest goes next with this series because I truly hope she comes back to this setting.

As for my work it's been a bit of a week.

Injection in my wrist for my tenosynovitis which was not exactly unpleasant, but needle stuck into wrist is not something one has done to one on an everyday basis.  My doctor informs me there's a 68% chance of the treatment working and I'll know in a couple of weeks.  He said the wrist would hurt more, and he wasn't wrong about that, but it was a strange pins & needles type of pain that was a bit disconcerting.

It should come as no surprise that I didn't sleep well that night.

Next morning I had to take my truck to Aldershot.  Unlike last year where I used the wrong postcode for directions, this year I got there without getting lost.  The biggest hassle was pumping up the tyres because the air at the petrol station was anaemic.  It took me fifteen minutes to inflate four tyres which was incredibly hard work as I had to keep the hose pushed on the valve.  My sore wrist didn't help.

So this week I finished the third draft of Strike Dog editing a total of 21,027 words.  Yay!

The running total for my second novel now stands at 92,854 down from the second draft total of 102, 343 words.  My plan now is to go back to Ghost Dog, but before I do I have a short story to critique, all part of the quid pro quo of having a friend Beta read my work in return.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ancillary Mercy


Ancillary Mercy concludes Ann Leckie's Ancillary Trilogy, which started with the multiple award winning Ancillary Justice and what a ride it has been.  I reviewed Justice here and Sword here.  To say I enjoyed reading Ancillary Mercy is the equivalent to saying I like chocolate or coffee.  It doesn't begin to describe the pleasure from reading the book. 

I would be the first to concede that I'm not much of a critic.  Exploring the underlying metaphor of existence and all that jazz generally leaves me feeling cold.

However, Ann Leckie's writing is assured which has a certain panache.  This book made laugh and cry, mostly laugh, but there are some sad parts, because change often involves loss or an acknowledgement of limitations about life.  After I finished reading it my partner put down another book to start this.  She sat next to me on the sofa reading while snorting at all the little things that make this book so enjoyable.

I know some people don't get on with the use of 'she' as the gender neutral pronoun, and the main character's inability to differentiate gender, but quite frankly the point is to keep you mindful that you're no longer in Kansas anymore.  So space opera with transhuman hive mind versus the alien Presger who are weirder than a weird thing.  What's not to like?  Go read it.

Can't finish without linking to Kintsugi Art.

I've been working on the re-write/editing of the second draft of Strike Dog this week, and I've managed to edit 51,858 words which means I've done 71,852 of the novel's current running total of 92,414.  So the end is in sight.  But I now realize I need to write a new last chapter to bookend the story and give proper closure to what happens on the world of Two Moons.  Didn't see that one coming but it will learn me.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

On Writing: Part 2


I think people look to rules as a way to avoid doing something wrong.  Unfortunately, in my experience, some things are sufficiently complex or have edge cases where ambiguity can creep in that one will still do something wrong.  Life, living, and writing are full of mistakes from things going wrong.

Also, I think that there are no rules for writing a novel, only guidelines.

However, as a former cognitive behavioural therapist I will tell you that to do what works requires you to know what went wrong.  To be able to effect change one has to learn, and there the research shows that people respond to multiple modes of learning.  A mode or modality is seeing, listening, speaking, writing and doing.  The 'doing' can often be – teach the answer – to someone else.

The problems as I see them are:
Lifeless prose makes reading the story an exercise is drudgery.

Tangled sentences confuse rather than clarify the story.

Cardboard characters have no life outside the plot.

Listless plots leading nowhere.
A note on show don't tell.  Sounds good but stop before quoting it because it's not a rule, merely a guideline.  Show emotions, yes.  Her face turn livid with rage, not she was angry.  Show action, yes.  She slapped him around the face.  Not she was angry and hit him. Show a weeks worth of nothing happening, no.  Tell the reader, one week later, rather than nothing much happened for a week.

So how to reach this state of nirvana is the question.  I'm going to quote Heinlein, "Write, finish what you start, only re-write to order, send it out, sell it."  But I will unpack one part of his advice.

When he says, "only re-write to order,"  one has to remember there was an assumption that the person writing knew not to type lifeless prose, tangled sentences, cardboard characters, and the story had a plot (which is more than just a beginning, middle, and an end). But remember these are only guidelines.  The only absolute is do what works, don't do what doesn't work.  The trick is knowing how, and to do that one learns from making mistakes.

So this week I've been writing, if one assumes that editing is writing, which in my opinion it is.

I went through Bad Dog again after the realization I'd missed some things the last time round.  It took me four days to edit 84,174 words.  I then started back on the third draft of Strike Dog, and over the last couple of days I managed to edit 15,668 words.  My pace is a lot slower because I'm at a much earlier stage with my second novel.  It hasn't been sent to my Beta readers for criticism yet but when it is I hope that the feedback on the writing will be more positive than the last time.

If it's not then I will need to go back and assess where my prose is lifeless, tangled mess, and add flesh to the cardboard characters who are being swept ashore by an uncertain plot.

Friday, 9 October 2015

On Writing: Part 1


I've been totally immersed in editing this week.  A roaring rampage of re-writing, and it's all the fault of a single tweet from someone I follow on Twitter about Autocrit.  I tried it, the interface looked nice, but I got so many emails over the weekend that I felt I was being spammed.

Still the idea was good and I started to look at reviews.  The one at Editor made for interesting reading.  However, there's a difference between theory and practice and what I as an aspiring author wants, rather than a critique of editing functionality.

In the process I found the Hemingway Editor and ProWritingAid.  So I spent the weekend playing around with them.

Hemingway Editor

A simple no frills writing tool.  It's lovely.  Does what it says it does.  Cheap too.   I bought it, and what more can I say?  For me it seemed to reveal my writing quirks in a natural and intuitive way.

Pro Writing Aid

At first I wasn't sure.  The interface is not as slick as Autocrit, but the reviews were good, so I decided to give it a test run.  Try it out.  Kick the tires so to speak.  After a week of pasting in text and analyzing the results, working through the various reports I now think I have a good handle on it.  What it did for me was allow me to read my text with a fresh set of eyes.  Drawing my attention to possible problems with my writing.  Things that I found good:
Over used words
Multiple sentences starting with the same word
Sentence length
Repeated phrases
Pronoun use
The program also has what it calls a combo report that pedantically list every fault it finds paragraph by paragraph.  At first this was a bit overwhelming to say the least, but by the end of the week I was able to parse it better and take from it those things that I needed.  The only thing that I still can't get my head around is what they call a transitions report, because I'm confused by the wording and numbers so I can't tell if a low number is good or bad.

The other thing that spurred this flurry was some feedback I had from my last Beta reader, David Barrow, who commented that he felt that my hero was just observing the action, rather than immersed in it.  Once I started removing the over used words I could see what he meant, because the text was much punchier without the "I heard' and "I saw" etc.

I can't afford to buy it but my partner is going to buy it for me.  I'm so lucky to have her.

So, this week I've run through Bad Dog again removing 879 words in the process, and now the novel  runs to 84,095 words.  More importantly I've got a better handle on what was nagging me about my story.  So this is all good.

Finally,  I read an interesting article by Steven Pinker on the Guardian website this week, which I will talk about more once I've read his book, which my partner has ordered for me.  It will be another early Xmas present.

Friday, 2 October 2015

TGIF

It has been a long week, for several reasons: partner home late more nights than I'd like, work on the second draft of Strike Dog going slower than anticipated.

I was talking to my partner about the last draft of Strike Dog and she made the comment that the pacing was a bit slow in places, and perhaps I should add some more inciting moments.  I feel that there's enough excitement in the story as it stand what with giant reptiles, rampaging robots and stuff, and had to think about the feedback I was getting.  In short I interpreted the comment as some stuff in this story bores me.

Having been in an email exchange with Peter Watts, who very kindly allowed me to bounce some ideas off him, I realized I had written some boring scenes.

Boring because they were effectively 'as you know Bob' info dumps.  So I've been editing my story and as a result I've removed 7,000 words from the narrative.  I find this quite depressing in a way, because it feels like a lot work going down the drain.  Also, more importantly, it has slowed my progress down.   This is the really frustrating part of the week, because I feel I've lost momentum.  And keeping one's momentum going is a thing.

So TGIF.