Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is it fall yet?

It’s been a lazy past couple of days. I can’t blame the weather—much. It’s 102 degrees F at the moment. Supposed to get to 106 on Monday.


I grew up in the 70s, the time of giant afros, bell-bottoms and Disco Duck, sure, but also the time of ecology, oil embargos, and burgeoning awareness of energy conservation, so I feel guilty turning on my A/C and often make do with cold showers, colder drinks, and fans. But today, I bit the bullet and turned it on, not only because it’s so freaking hot, but I don’t want any distractions. I want to finish The Reckoning Flames. I really, really want to finish it, and me flopping about, miserable and kvetching about the temperature won’t help. (I don’t understand this “suffering for your art” hornswaggle. If I lived broiling—or freezing—in a garrette, I wouldn’t get a word written. Get a job to pay the bills and instead of watching TV in the evening, write. Problem solved.)

Anyway, so the air is on, my tea is iced, and I’m diving right back into Rabbit’s trials and tribuations after this blog break. And while there have been no geese flying south for the winter yet, I can tell through my powers of observation (and reading the calendar) that cooler weather is just around the corner.

I can’t wait.

Monday, September 20, 2010

¿Quién Sabe?

Who knows what and how much do they tell? I’ve been picking through a scene where the characters are summarizing what they’ve observed and the conclusions they’ve drawn from it, and it’s been difficult. The conversation has to be natural—no one says (at least, no one normal), “I observed the geese flying southward in a “V” formation and therefore concluded that the fall equinox has passed and autumn has arrived.” Instead, they say, “Time to buy Halloween candy.”

So here I have a bunch of observant guys who’ve known each other for a while. What do they say to each other? How much do they say and how do they say it? Do they hold anything back? If so, why? Do they veer off on tangents? If so, how do I bring them back? Do I want to bring them back? Or do I let them go chasing down rabbit (hah!) trails?

It’s also been kind of frustrating because while they do know each other, their relationships are changing. So the rhythm, the dynamics of their conversation has changed, which means that tones, attitudes, and word choices that might’ve been appropriate for Covenants are out of whack here and I have to dig to discover what is appropriate. I love it when my characters make me work. Ah well, characters changing and maturing is good for a series, I suppose. No one stays the same forever. Unless you’re Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe.

By the way, only 96 shopping days until Christmas.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Creative Process: More on Borrowing

Looking back on my last post, I realized that I gave the impression that ethical authors never “borrow” ideas from other authors, which is not true. They do it all the time. In fact, all artists cop ideas from their fellow artists. In music, J.S. Bach took from Vivaldi, Mozart from C.P.E. Bach, and Stravinsky from anyone he could get his hands on. As Stravinsky put it, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.”

That’s why we have styles, trends, periods, eras. Bach didn’t suddenly show up out of the blue devising contrapuntal fugues. Nor did Shakespeare write without the influence of Kit Marlow, or Kerouac without Ginsberg and the rest of his Beat cronies. Tolkien had C.S. Lewis, and C.S. Lewis had Tolkien—and Charles Williams.  Everyone of us follow those who went before. Everyone of us have contemporaries that provide grist for our creative mills. Everyone of us are looking over each other’s shoulders saying, “Well, looky there. Huh. I wonder how that would work if I were to take it and. . . hmm. . .”

There was a time when, except for Chelsea Yarbro’s Saint-Germain and possibly Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula, vampires were for the most part considered bad guys. Then P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files were published and suddenly not only did we get the vampire as a leading romantic interest, but also modern urban fantasy was born. And from that came Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Christine Feehan’s Carpathians and a host of other paranormal romance and urban fantasy fiction involving mean streets and/or bloodsucking heroes.

Just as when Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was published, there appeared all sorts of books with time-travel in them, involving all kinds of methods. I remember one where the heroine took a hotel elevator to the ground floor and, boom, there she was, in another century, with a dashing hero waiting to whisk her away.

Now, of course, it’s one thing to take an idea and adapt it for your own, and another to take someone’s work and claim it as yours. Plagiarism is bad. Very bad. It’s worse than faulty research and sloppy writing, worse than spicing up your memoirs with fiction, worse than anything. Nora Roberts called it mind-rape when she discovered that fellow romance author Janet Daily had heavily plagiarized three of her novels. And Megan McCafferty said that she was devastated and felt “like something fundamental was taken” when she found out that fledgling author Kaavya Viswanathan’s first book contained large chunks, some verbatim, of her young adult series.

And there’s the damage done to those who plagiarize. There’s no question that Ms. Daily is a gifted and successful writer, yet she’ll be forever associated with having passed Nora Roberts’ work off as her own, and who knows if Ms. Viswanathan will ever sell another book—or be able to do anything that calls attention to herself because of the notoriety that will follow her throughout her life.

So, borrow yes. Plagiarize, a resounding no. And always know what your cronies are up to.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Creative Process: "Borrowing"

There was a review of The King’s Own where the reviewer claimed that I’d “borrowed” the name Chadde (the Keeper of the King’s Peace) and Laurel’s vile tea from another author’s book. However, the problem with his claim was that I’ve never read any of this author’s works, let alone that particular book. Chadde was just a name I came up with (coincidences do happen) and the vile tea was first used in Covenants—and that came from my father’s stories of growing up during the time when cod liver oil was considered good for what ailed you. Apparently it is so nasty that whenever he became sick, he would hide it as long as possible to avoid getting a dose. Nothing like the bubblegum, cherry, and grape flavored stuff they gave us when I was a kid. Then, I did get penicillin shots (there were times when my backside felt like a pin cushion), so I guess it all evened out in the (hah!) end.


So Rabbit’s torment by tea is all my doing. Not that I don’t borrow from other authors. Or, maybe a better word for it is study. When I read, I’m following the storyline, sure. But I’m also looking to see what works and what doesn’t (and why), and what’s particularly effective. Not just plot line and character development, but also structure: Does the scene flow? How much backstory does the author provide? Is it enough? Is it too much? Is it in the right place or does it impede the current story? (A big concern in a series.)  And there are the plot devices—techniques used to advance the story. Again, do they work? Or are they clumsy? Or, worse, clichéd? A posse heading bank robbers off at the pass would be a hard sell to any reader. Unless it’s a spoof, and even then it’s been done so many times that the writer would have to be careful.

This is why writers should always read books similar to what they’re writing—fiction and non-fiction: biographies/memoirs, textbooks, cookbooks, self-help, what-have-you. Through them, we get a broad range of solutions to whatever creative issues we might have, and learn what to embrace and what to avoid like a dose of cod liver oil.  Or Laurel's vile tea.

So, no, I don’t lift names and ways to torment right out of other books. But I just might boost that transition sentence.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yes, but what does it really mean, Part 2

I’m a gamer; there, I admit it. I play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games), single player RPGs, and RTS (real time strategy) games. More about that later. Maybe. Anway, one day, I was lurking on the customer service forum of an MMO I play when I saw a post by someone complaining that the game masters had forced him to change his character’s name from Fubar to something less offensive. Well, the customer service regulars (players who post in that particular forum all the time) chimed in, stating that masked profanity wasn’t allowed. Which is true. This particular MMO is very strict about their naming policy, and do their best to insure that the players’ online experience match the ESRB teen rating on the game box. Anyway— so this goes on for several posts, until someone else points out that while fubar is indeed against policy, snafu isn’t, even though the “f” in both means exactly the same thing. At which point another player posted, highly upset. Apparently she was very conscientious about not using profanity, yet she just discovered that she’d been using a word that was really an acronym that contained the most basic of all Anglo-Saxon cuss words.

(By the way, I’m not making light of those who don't use profanity—I also try not to swear, and am mostly successful. I figure there are more intelligent and creative ways of getting a point across. However, if I get up in the middle of the night and stub my toe, all bets are off.)

Which reinforces the need to understand the idioms we're using. For the longest time I thought the Wazoo was a river in China—and why not? My mom told me that and I believed her. Then for some odd reason I looked up the phrase "up the wazoo" and discovered that my mom had a wicked sense of humor. And that’s not the only phrase I didn’t quite know the origins of, especially those I’ve come across while playing online. The internet is a dark and dangerous place, full of apocryphal and outright false information, but sometimes—just sometimes—it’s a lifesaver. Or at least a face-saver. I know that it’s saved mine when I use it look up a meaning of a phrase. (Oh, golly. That means that?)

Say what you mean and mean what you say, and always know the true meaning of the words you use. That way you’ll never get in an argument on the internet that the “f” in snafu really means “fudge.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yes, but what does it really mean?

I just finished writing a section where I had a character flit about, and as I did so, I realized that I’d never seen anyone in real life do that. I’ve seen birds, yes, as they fly from branch to branch. But people? No. Nor have I’ve seen anyone flounce. I know what it evokes—someone turning and swiftly leaving a room (especially if there are doors to slam) usually in a high dudgeon (whatever that means), and mostly likely involving crinolines, gloves, fluttering fans and fights where the blows are verbal and delivered over tea with lethal accuracy by tongues sharp enough to shred lettuce.

Which is why I guess writers use words and phrases that don't really have anything to do with the way people really act. It’s a sort of shorthand, a way to get across in the minimum amount of words an action or reaction. But sometimes that shorthand breaks down and the reader is wondering, okay, what the heck is that? Like when a writer describes someone unclothed as “buck naked.” Uhm, what? Who is Buck and why is his nakedness more absolute than anyone else's? Or my favorite, when a character has a “wild hare”—though to be fair, that’s more a mix up on homonyms than a phrase gone, hah, wild.

Well, back to the flitting character. Maybe I can work a flounce or two in there somewhere. But no bucks or hares. The only animals involved are the two-legged kind—and, yes, that includes Laurel.

*No wildlife was harmed in the making of this post.