Thursday, June 30, 2011

Woodland Park Zoo!

If you’re ever in the Seattle area, I highly recommend you visit Woodland Park Zoo, which shows how fun a zoo can be. 

The above peacock was just walking around free.  I saw a crowd of people staring at something, so I rounded a corner and was astonished by it.  Look at how gigantic the feathers were. 

I hadn’t been to the zoo since I was a child, and I was pleasantly surprised to be impressed as an adult.  The most popular scene for children was the penguin area, where they could go right up to a five foot tall glass wall and see the penguins swimming around.  The elephants were nice, but the tapirs were more impressive, since they would come up right against their glass, so we could observe their odd-looking snouts. 

The startling moment is shown below.  I looked through a narrow window and saw something staring back at me. 

 Can you see the ocelot?
(You can click to enlarge)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Olivia gets a little too blonde

In this part of my vampire parody, Olivia, a sister of the main character, has gotten a rideshare from a stranger to her parents' house.  

They were halfway up the street when a teenage boy came running out of a yard—her parents’ yard.  “Oh no!”  That’s the kid Dee warned about.  Had he attacked her parents?  She unclasped the seatbelt and grabbed the dollar bills she had stashed in her pocket.  “Here’s the money!  Let me out fast.” 
            She froze when she saw Ellie scram out of the yard after the kid, rolling pin raised high over her head.  “OH NO!”  Vampire or no, the family would never recover from that kind of stereotype.  “Heh heh.  That’s my mom.  Must be some pesky student selling stuff for his school.” 
            The driver slammed on the brakes, then turned and unlocked one of the rear doors.  “GET IN!”  The kid complied, hopping into a back seat. 
            “Uh, no.  You don’t know who this guy is.”  Then Olivia realized the two of them knew each other.  And also, that she wasn’t being as smart a blonde as she liked. 
            The driver cranked the car into a vicious U-turn, leaving Olivia plastered against her window.  Her face smushed, she called out to Ellie.  “MOM!  HELP!”  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Where Does Your Story Start?

Sari Webb, way down in Australia, has posted an excellent entry on the beginnings of stories, with points such as:  

  • Start at the point of change  
  • What is the inciting incident?  

Also, check out her links to previous posts where she analyzed the first pages of published novels.  She tells you up front that her analysis is "unscientific," but she gives important insights on what will hook the reader.  Thanks, Sari, for your interesting post.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In the Narrow Strait

As promised (see my previous entry), here’s an excerpt from Virgin Unknown.  The main character’s brother, Orestes, is commanding a ship in a treacherous passage between cliffs.  He has been pursued by the Furies, hideous flying creatures. 

            The ship lurched.  Orestes bent his knees to keep his stance, but he could feel and see the ship getting swept to the left. 
            DOUBLE TIME!”  The urgency in the steersman’s voice did nothing to calm Orestes’ heart.  He could see the muscles in the arms and chests of the oarsmen strain to the point of breaking as they struggled against the churning water.  The cliff on the left seemed to rush towards them, wanting to crush them like some hollow shell.  He gasped at the menace, and in that moment his mind flew to such a level of alertness he saw beyond the left railing a couple of crabs scuttle in the sand at the base of the cliff, the ship was so close. 
            He also saw Pylades moving, but the speed was a tenth of his friend’s normal motion.  His eyebrows twisted in consternation, as when a man realizes something is crawling across his bare leg.  Then he looked down, his body stable as he paid no mind to the rolling and lurching.  He grasped a small pouch at his waist with his large hands.  Mouth agape, his eyes grew wide.  Still in that moment of slowness, he looked up, his lips moving.  The words brought Orestes’ mind back to normal perception. 
            “Orestes!  The pearl is glowing!  The Furies approach!” 
            Pylades was gripping the huge pearl Athena had given him.  A pink light shone between his fingers.  Orestes remembered what the wise immortal had promised concerning her gift.  He looked up. 
            “AAGH!”  He saw two hideous gray things flying high, above the cliffs, following their path.  Orestes drew his sword.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Opera -- at a Movie Theater!

As part of my effort to have new experiences to help my creativity as a writer, I attended an opera not too long ago -- in a movie theater.  

Placido Domingo

A theater in the area has operas beamed into it live from places like The Met.  I attended a performance of Iphigenie en Tauride, which has the same source as one of my stories (More on that below.)  

Although I've seen bits of operas on TV before, that cannot compare to seeing it on a big screen with a theater-sized sound system.  It's astonishing to realize the performers are singing live onstage with no microphones.  Placido Domingo played the male lead, and his duet with another male singer left me stunned with the beauty of it.  Susan Graham played the female lead.  They announced ahead of time that she had a cold, but she sounded magnificent throughout -- including some rather long pieces!  

This particular opera is baroque, which surprised me because of the simplicity of the lines.  In the intermission, they explained this was a transitional piece, which explained the lack of ornateness.

Susan Graham

The source material is Iphigenia in Tauris, written by Euripides.  When I read this Greek play, I realized it could be a marvelous story.  A young woman has been spirited away by a goddess to a foreign land, where she is expected to sacrifice any strangers who wander into that land.  Meanwhile, her brother, who assumes her to be dead, has wandered into her land after many adventures.  What will happen?  

Much of the play was in the form of talking heads -- the characters discussing what had happened to them.  But I could start from the beginning and tell the story in sequence.  My historical fantasy manuscript Virgin Unknown is the result.  I'll share an excerpt later this week.  

Back to the opera:  This live beaming might be a way of saving this art form, which seems to be declining.  Pay 20+ dollars for great camera views in a nearby theater, rather than paying substantially more and travelling a good distance for the event.  And don't worry, they have subtitles in English (this particular opera was in French).  I was definitely the youngest person there, but who knows what the future holds?  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Toughen Your Kids

This playground ride will separate the men from the boys.  (It will also separate their shoulders.)  

The alternate caption is, if your neighborhood kids bother you while you write, just install one of these.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

First Page Critiques

Over at Unicorn Bell, they're having a First Page Critique session.  Submit the first 250 words of your story by June 14 by 5:00 pm, CST.

Huntress is running this critique session.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dee and Hope escape

The following is an excerpt from my vampire parody.  You might notice this isn’t one of the funny scenes.  Dee and her injured friend Hope are escaping from a shed, where they had been held by vampires. 

            “But they said they had to report to someone.”  Dee opened the shed door a crack, then they went out.  Everything should have been pitch black, but a couple of low path lights were on—they looked like the kind that absorbed solar energy during the day, to illumine a path at night. 
            Hope leaned heavily on her.  “Why the night lights?” 
            “Not even vampires can see in the dark.” 
            “Did the duct tape rip a lot of hair off?” 
            “Are you implying I have hairy legs?” 
            She could see the service truck the vampires had used, when they pretended to be electricians.  Dee hauled her friend towards it as fast as she could, her feet tangling dangerously with Hope’s.  A couple dark shapes loomed to their left, which she took to be other sheds.  No sign of the two vampires.  No sign of whomever they reported—   
            Dee stopped, in spite of herself.  Something loomed to the right of them.  Some thing.  She turned towards it.  Darker than their nighttime surroundings, darker than the sheds.  She had the vague impression of a hooded figure. 
            Impossible to judge how close it was.  Dee lost awareness of any sounds, of any chill from the night air.  There was just the dark figure, more solid than anything else.  Some menacing feel of purpose emanated from it.  The figure reached out an arm towards her. 
            A voice broke her out of it.  It was Hope, getting increasingly loud.  “Let’s get out of here!  Dee!  LET’S GET OUT HERE!”  

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Future of Books

While I was at Norwescon, a major publisher in the business gave a dismal view of the future of the paperback book.  Everyone there knew that Borders bookstores are in a death spiral, no matter what they say about keeping the remaining stores open.  This publisher then went on to predict Barnes & Noble will follow suit in two to three years.  He then put some figures on the low returns publishers could expect from printing up paperback books that would not have many bookstores to sell from. 

All right, what about the online booksellers like Amazon?  Here is where recent developments in e-publishing entered the discussion.  E-book sales are rising, one reason being the lower price for many, but another is the instant gratification that a younger generation demands:  They want to buy a book and have it instantly arrive in whatever device they’re using.  Amazon and other online publishers will increasingly push the e-versions. 

This publisher concluded that paperback books will disappear in five years. 

I have much less experience in the business – after all, I haven’t published a novel yet.  But permit me to disagree.  Readers enjoy the experience of holding a book while reading it.  Some people argue by analogy with what happened to the music business:  No one was in love with those round disks that had the music imprinted on them.  Listeners wanted the music itself, and the moment the round disks became superfluous, they abandoned them.  And so, they argue, people will abandon those rectangular blocks with words printed on them.  Readers want the information, not the rectangles.  And yet, I disagree.  Readers do enjoy holding a book while reading it, leafing back and forth to review, and seeing how much of the book is left.  They even enjoy the heft of a book, to tell themselves they are doing light reading or heavy reading. 

For those of you who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you might remember the scene in which Giles said he didn’t like computers because they aren’t “smelly.”  He explained that readers associate certain books with the smell, the feel of the book.  Further, the retaining of information is difficult enough, we need to associate it with sensory experience.  It seemed an odd argument at the time, but now I agree with it. 

Do I deny that the closing of major chains will make it less convenient to shop for books?  Of course not.  But entrepreneurs will look at those empty stores and say, “I can make it work.”  Do I deny that the e-book market will grow like crazy?  Of course not.  But readers will still want to hold a physical book.  The market for books will go through some upheavals, and there may be moments when it looks like the paperback will go away, but I don’t think so.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Review: Dying Bites

FBI agent Jace Valchek has been pulled into an alternate reality—one where her skills at tracking down psychopaths are sorely needed.  You see, in this reality, humans lost the war:  The world’s population consists of vampires, werewolves, and golems.  Humans are less than one percent.  But one of those humans is a psychopathic killer, and this reality doesn’t know how to handle that. 

Jace’s detective skills are matched by her biting sarcasm, which manages to annoy her vampire boss, her golem bodyguard, and the werewolf doctor she finds herself warming to.  But can she track down the human psychopath who’s unafraid to use impalement, crazed dogs, and other means of torture?  If she can’t, she’ll never find her way back to her own reality. 

I liked this urban fantasy more than any other I’ve read.  The alternate reality premise intrigued my science fictional tastes.  And although there’s one brief overnight encounter, there aren’t any of the highly purplish sex scenes that are typical of the subgenre.  I don’t normally like novels about serial killers, but since it’s just vampires and werewolves getting killed, who cares? 

Jace is more than the typical female version of a hardboiled detective.  Her sardonic wisecracks in the face of danger are quite funny.  And the little touches that flesh out this alternate reality make sense—such as the cute cartoon character on the bottle of blood that she at first mistakes for tomato juice.  Overall, I would recommend this to fans of science fiction and fantasy who have been puzzled by the new, dark urban fantasy novels that have taken over their favorite bookshelves. 

(For those of you trying to get published:  Get the practice you need for writing query letters by writing reviews of books and movies in that style.  Look at the first two paragraphs of this post.  Write a lot of reviews that way, and hopefully when it comes time for you to query for your own masterpiece, you’ll know what to do by habit.)  


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