Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raven's Reading Registry

I have been telling people for a while now (albeit jokingly) that I was going to start one of these sooner or later. Mainly because one of the most common gripes my friends arraign against me is that they professedly never know what to get me when holidays and birthdays roll around, but, more importantly, because I regard information and words--yummy, delectable words--the way a fat kid might regard a cupcake buffet.. and I lack the finances to maintain this habit all on my own. So for all you indecisive aristarchs out there who have the misfortune of having my name on one or more of your gift lists, here's a freebie. The meta-gift of gift-giving:

Books You Can Buy Me That Will Convince Me Indubitably That You Spent Countless Sleepless Nights Thinking Up A Gift That Shows You Care

(In no particular order)

  • Philosophical Investigations (Fourth Edition) by Ludwig Wittgenstein 
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
  • The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics by John Pollack
  • From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest by T.Z. Lavine
  • The Stories of English by David Crystal
  • Words Words Words by David Crystal
  • The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language by David Crystal
  • Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies Edited by John Cottingham
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (Edited by Eric Steinberg)
  • How Language Works by David Crystal
  • Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O'Conner
  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, 3rd Edition by Patricia T. O'Conner

I will, of course, do my best to keep this list updated. Also, no, I have not gone looney and stopped reading fiction. I just have a harder time waiting to read fiction, so the likelihood of any spec-fic book making it onto this list before I've already bought or read the damn thing is about as probable as this list running dry any time soon.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Obligatory "NaNoWriMo Begins" Post

Yes, people. If you somehow managed to miss every third update on every social media venue today... It has frakkin' begun.
Get to it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Is this our last time?
4 years and 5 lines
Is this how we'll remember each other?

"Candle lighters and letter writers"
We didn't jump in time

The birds came calling in the dead of the night
So flames we nurtured against the press of their flight

As I lay wondering and dreaming of places
That never were, that never could be
Did you know?

If I had waited
If you had traded
Your wants for my worries

But not gone

Was love's labor lost
or sated?

I thought..
But so what
We faded
And carried on to silence
of reluctance and will

Not enough, never enough
The world will not stall
We gave it our all
We gave it our all

And that is no small task

So don't grieve, my love
Don't cry or regret

Every dog will have its day
Every path will have its way

You'll know, it's time
Ours or mine
When the wick has cooled
That our eyes were fooled

By the passing shadow of birds

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You beta watch out, You beta not cry

The clock never saw it coming
Back before my "three-week productivity" moratorium ninja-vanished into a sprawling, three-month social media boycott, I had planned on writing about how I beta-read LSH's Hellhound. 1. Because I'm notorious for coming up with brainchildren and then shunning them like the demented leper babies they are, 2. because when the Mighty ScribeBot gives a suggestion, it must needs be obeyed! because 3. See point number one. I'm beginning to suspect that LSH is, in fact, an alien cyborg with some kind of advanced topic-generating implant for a brain. Maybe if we beat her with a blunt object, she'll explode like a pinata full of Hershey's kisses and helpful advice......No, I have not tested this theory.


Anyway, I had planned on talking about Hellhound. Now (because I'm fickle and inspired) I'd rather talk about what makes a good beta reader.

Didn't this house have an ocean view...?
So, you've finished that 10,000 to 10,000,000 word 9-headed monstrosity that has been consuming your life for the last year or ten years. What is the first thing you want to do..? (Besides feed your dying pet, take a shower, say hi to neglected family members, or check if the sun's still warm...) Yes! SHOW SOMEONE! Whether you're a saga spinner, a drabble drafter, or somewhere happily in between, it is important to have a second set of eyes suffer the sight of the creature you've birthed writhing and screaming into its paper crib. And, while most of you are probably thinking "Yeah, Raven. Like..Duh?" I think a lot of people forget that it is equally, if not more, important to find the right beta reader for YOU.

You Beta Watch Out

Life's crazy, the world is small, and the Internet is vast. Sometimes the first people to volunteer their insight aren't necessarily the best ones for the job. Sure, while I believe that all feedback should be coveted like a female classmate in the computer science department, let's not forget a few other key points:
  • Is your volunteer familiar with your work? 
Once someone knows something, it's pretty hard for them to then "unknow" that something--without the aid of blunt-force trauma-induced amnesia and/or date-rape drugs. It doesn't matter how convincing your sister's argument is for how she had *gasp* no idea that your villain would jump out of the closet at the end of chapter three, even though his name was Chuckles and his description somewhat reminded her of your creepy Uncle Charlie. She's lying. Granted, depending on what you write, it may not be critical that your beta reader approaches your manuscript with virgin eyes. But say--you were writing a mystery-thriller where you worked really, really hard to keep your readers guessing until the very last page.. You should probably reconsider enlisting your roommate (whom you had already told in a drunken stupor two weeks ago that it was Colonel Sanders, with a breast fillet, at the uptown Dairy Queen). Really, your roommate will not thank you for sneaking up behind him with a lead pipe or for slipping ruphalin in his coffee just because you can't bear the thought of him not reading your story. It's not his fault; you spoiled it for him!
  • How well does your beta know you? 
There's a reason why inside jokes are only funny to the people inside. Remember that, ultimately, your goal is to tell your story to someone who doesn't know you. If your narrative relies heavily on your own voice, why not let someone who doesn't know that voice try and make sense of your words? After all, the basis of writing is communication and you want to communicate to as many people as possible. (Right?) It's great if you have friends who can decipher your intentions just by seeing the color you made your protagonist's hair, but, at the end of the day, the outsider's perspective is the only perspective that matters.
  • How much does your beta love you?
Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that just because our loved ones are our loved ones, they will always do what's best for us and give us the brutal honesty that we need. Your loved ones are smart people who know that if their criticism is going to be what reduces you into a disheartened, weeping pile on the floor, they will also have to be the ones to come along and mop up the pieces. I'm not saying you should fling your final draft at people who don't give two flips about you either, but there's a reason why Mom's your #1 fan.
  • Do they have the T-I-M-E?
What do you mean you only have 24?!
Beta readers have day jobs, taxes, homework, children, dentist's appointments, and circadian rhythms too. Don't ever forget it. If you need feedback and you need it NOW, sneaking 30 pages of your latest novella into your best friend's senior thesis is not the way to say: "I value you...and your opinion." I don't know how many times I've promised a friend or acquaintance that I'll read their story, then my ISP goes haywire and I'm working overtime every Saturday for a month and, suddenly, four-months fly by and I haven't even peeled back the cover page. To their credit, the poor souls I've done this to have never chased me down with baseball bats, but I'm sure it was pretty annoying for them to have a promised set of eyes disappear without warning. Do yourself a favor. Never hold your breath and always have back-ups.
  • Do they even like to read (what you write)?
Mom may be your #1 but there's another more important reason why I would never ever EVER hand anything I write to my mother--she has absolutely no tolerance my genre. Asking my mother to read one of my stories would be like asking a blind man to evaluate a painting. Sure, after much face-palming for both parties involved, you might glean some highly dubious, highly opinionated impressions of the piece. They may even be able to make educated--albeit unsubstantiated--assessments of the quality and texture of the artwork. But will they be able to tell you whether the play of light and dark in your composition creates a harmonious balance that is unique within your creative sphere? Or that, in order for the Shadow Lord to have used that +7 Ungodly Spell of Mountain Sundering in scene 12, his arms would have needed to have been screwed on backwards and brandishing your +5 Plot Point of Narrative Cohesion?

Will they even enjoy having to give you feedback? As a kid, my mother used to tell me that fantasy (as a genre) "makes no sense" to her and that elements of paranormal and science fiction, not only weird her out but, disgust her. (This is, of course, the same woman who watches war documentaries, where half the footage consists of people running around with their pancreases about their ankles, on a regular basis.) So, much as I love her, I do not talk about writing with my mother. It spares me of her unhelpful opinions about my interests, and it spares her of her hyperactive parental piety.

You Beta Not Cry

Of course, before you start beaming your friends and colleagues with your 25-pound manuscript, there are always the questions you should ask yourself too:
  • Am I ready for criticism?
I'm not going to beat this dead horse. No one likes a defensive whiner. If your gut instinct is to counter every comment your reader thinks up, you're probably not ready. If you feel the need to justify your in-story decisions when your reader tells you something is confusing or nonsensical, you're probably not ready. Don't just take my word for it, here's an excellent post on when you should ask for a critique. For better or for worse, are you ready to take it like a champ?
  • Who am I writing this story for?
Not everything written is written for everybody. And I'm not talking about genre or content or even appropriateness. This is not the same question as "who are you writing to". I mean just that: Who are you writing for? Are you writing this story for yourself or for progeny? Did you have a particular family member or friend group on your mind when you picked your POV characters? As a kid I had the mindset that, if I wrote something and I was proud of it, naturally I'd want to show it to as many people as possible. Well, the older I get and the more I write, the less this has been the case. I think it was right around the last year of college that I realized that my first blog was not for public browsing. I don't think I wrote any of it for anyone except me. So I took it down. Be sure you know your personal objectives too before you start mashing the Send All button on your ListServ.
  • Who are you writing to?
O rly...?
Since I mentioned it before, I might as well play Captain Obvious here. Hopefully, if you've made it as far as the critique stage, you already know who your target audience is. Sometimes stories do take on a life of their own though, and a YA action/adventure might mature into an adult epic fantasy. This is a great place for your beta reader to come in. An impartial bystander can often identify things at-a-glance that could otherwise take hours of careful consideration on your own part. It's a little bit like losing or gaining weight gradually over time. You might not even notice it since you see yourself in the mirror everyday, but an old friend who hasn't seen you since college can point it out almost immediately. Are you open to adaptation?
  • What kind of feedback do I need from my beta reader?
It's always good to let your beta reader know. Sometimes you might just need a specific something just to keep on keeping on. If I'm beta reading, I always ask. Do you only want to hear positive things for now? Do you only want first impressions of villains? Do you want me to be on the lookout for tense changes? Does someone need a hug..?
Don't make your beta reader dive 3,000 words deep into a thoughtful, hand-written analysis of the internal conflict of your protagonist's motivations before you reveal to them that what you actually wanted was a glorified spellchecker. (Refer to note about beta readers having LIVES.) We will not hesitate to KEEL you...

Remember: Your beta reader is only there because of you and, to have a good beta, you must be a good alpha.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    Still Alive

    Yes, World. I am, in fact, still alive. And to prove it to myself, I am writing this emaciated, skimpy little post to guilt myself into actually updating within the next 48 hours...

    Thanks so much to all my fellows who haven't already dropped me like a hot potato for disappearing without a rhyme or reason.

    Yours inconsistently,


    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    First Person Present Tension

    L. Scribe Harris recently did a blog on first-person present-tense in current YA genre fiction and I felt compelled to respond a) because it was a fantastic topic and b) because I'm justifiably furious at having wasted an hour of my life writing her a damn near essay-length comment only to have Blogger come back at me with its infamous "We're sorry but we cannot complete this request--so we completely deleted everything you wrote. Back button you say? Pssh, naaw'man! We're just gonna reset to square one, mmmk..? Mmk."

    I'll begin by pointing out that if you haven't already read it, you should probably read Scribe's blog first for this to make any kind of sense. Really. I insist that you do or this will all just come out sounding like the inane ramblings of a neurotic, misanthropic, glass-is-half-fucked madwoman. But then again.. if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and blogs like a neurotic, misanthropic, glass-is-half-fucked madwoman, then it's probably a duck cosplaying me. Right?

    So before my chagrin for Blogger subsides and I resume my three-week productivity moratorium, let the bitching commence!

    First off, you should probably be aware that I do not claim to be any kind of expert on what exactly is the latest and greatest in YA fiction. Hell, I'll be the first to admit that I've been more or less shunning the classification ever since barely-edited fanfiction and poorly-disguised-Twilight/Harry Potter/yadayada clones began showing up in hardback with $16-$26 price tags. Nevertheless, one can never truly separate oneself from one's roots, and many of my most beloved authors still reside in the currently-Robert-Pattinson-poster-spangled section of the bookstore. Thus, I've done my best to stay informed, though I thank all that is good and holy for the John Greens, Neal Shustermans, Garth Nixs, and Robin McKinleys that still exist.

    While I agree with Scribe's observation that first person present tense accommodates our culture of "short, fast, and now", I can't help but think that there are further sociological implications as well. In a world where any one-eyed, foul-mouthed halfwit with a soap box and a webcam can become an instant internet celebrity, the words "narcissism" and "hyper-egocentrism" also come to mind. Perhaps, young people of the 2000-somethings (and no, I'm not an exception) are less likely to engross themselves in anything unless it's two inches from their noses and immediately tangential to the story of their own life.

    At the risk of sounding like every disgruntled social sciences professor EVER, we already know that American youth nowadays vote less, shop more, and are 100x more likely to kill themselves because their peers taunted them in grade school than ever knowing any true hardship or any direct side effect or war, famine or pestilence.

    So how do you make a girl who shoots her own food and doesn't experience the feeling of a full stomach until her sixteenth year of life sympathetic? Or make an unforgiving futuristic hegemony that controls every aspect of life from birth to love seem relevant?

    First person present tense? Sure. Okay. I get it. I'll buy it.

    But seriously, a boy that comes from a family of curse workers and goes to a dark paranormal private school...? What's to be gained by using the present tense here? Is there something that the immediacy of the present tense can accomplish that the fantasy aspect of a fantasy novel cannot?? Even School Library Journal points out that there are places in the novel "where the action is confusing and clarity appears sacrificed for expediency". I'm not making this shit up, people. School Library Journal wrote it and Amazon posted it. Amazon who is trying to make money by selling this book posted that as the first editorial review on the product page.

    Red flag much? In my humble opinion, clarity should never EVER be sacrificed for style. (Unless your first name is Anthony and your last name is Burgess) *End rant*

    On the other hand, I suppose this current rash of overusing first person present tense makes Twilight look like a literary classic... Now how do you like them immortal-sparkly-obsessive-stalkery apples?

    So before I wax too (much more) jaded and pessimistic, I will sign off on a note of hope: Hope to God or whatever's sacred to you that your favorite authors--YA or otherwise--stay brave against the dreaded forces of fashion-frackers. And until I get the "all clear" signal from my handy-dandy YA-screeners (AKA friends), I'll be in the adult sci-fi/fantasy section, clinging desperately to tried-and-true comfort of first and third person past tense.

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    Superstition (Flash Friday #2)

    Photo by alphadesigner
    Mikhail wasn't a particularly superstitious man but any man knows it's going to be a bad day when bird shit comes raining from the heavens onto the imported leather upholstery of one's pride and joy. In his case, an antique fully-restored gas-powered Audi TT convertible. Call it a man's intuition. Call it a collector's nightmare. Of course, either way, it was his own damn fault for leaving the top down for even a millisecond while it was not under his own watchful eye. But who would've guessed that those avian cess pits would have such good aim? As far as Mikhail was concerned, it was further proof that there was no god. Especially, if God had given turd factories wings.

    So, as one might imagine, he wasn't particularly surprised or thrilled when the image of an unidentified motor vehicle came barreling into his surveillance feed nor when his ne'er-do-well sibling emerged from the driver's side. Sure, it had probably been at least a year since he had last seen said sibling. But as their infrequent encounters over the years became more and more volatile, Mikhail had resigned himself to the notion that the less he knew about the feckless habits of his kid sister, the less heads he'd be obligated to set a-rolling in downtown Gotham.

    He was just about to call for Lani to go open the door when he noticed a third presence register on the feed. The prodigal sibling was not alone.

    Scheiße but what the fuck was she thinking? Mikhail reached for the closest firearm he could find and prepped it without blinking. As he ascended the stairs, he called out to his wife.

    He didn't even realize that the weapon he had grabbed was a reverse engineered Uzi until he'd made it out of the basement. Perhaps an aftermarket state-of-the-art machine gun was overkill for any one acquaintance of his sister's social genre, but since she had the gall to bring the scrub home, he might as well make an impression.

    As he waited in anticipation to the incoming presence of his sister and her companion through the one-way glass windows, it occurred to him that there could be a metaphysical correlation between bird turds and shitheads. The thought was finally interrupted by a pounding at the door.

    Mikhail wasn't a particularly superstitious man but he just knew it was going to be a bad day.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Point Blank (Sunday Sample #2)

    The barkeep gibbered, shuddered, and ran his hands through his singed neon green faux-hawk as he lead her into a VIP room in the back of the dingy after-hours club. Clearly, it had been the man's first bar fight involving live ammunition, and Jadai would've almost felt sorry for the punk bastard. But he did try to charge her 15 chips for a vodka-tonic and the way she had it figured, this many clicks above Neo Johannesburg, the man probably deserved whatever comeuppance SynCorps had in store for him.

    "Alec, is it?"

    Regarding the flustered barkeep with mild amusement, she helped herself to a seat on a tacky leopard-print couch and almost swore out loud as pain shot through her side on impact. Blood and breakers! That'll be a cracked rib.

    There was nothing quite like non-lethal injury to ruffle her feathers. The way things were going, Jadai was ready to start shooting and ask questions later. Too bad she'd dropped her gun outside. She grinned up at the barkeep instead.

    "I'm all right," she drawled, "Just some bruises and scratches. Don't trouble your mind over--"

    But the nervous little punk was already halfway back down the hall.

    Jadai leaned her head back and waved at the ceiling. "Hallo! We were supposed to negotiate the Luminary file 'bout twelve minutes ago but instead, your point man--Yep, she'd be me--got busted up by some right ol' amateurs on the way in. Now, don't you worry! I'm not normally this sloppish. It's just, well, I can't fecking massacre a bunch of civies just 'cause they all tick me the hell off. Pleased to meet you too!"

    Blowing out a frustrated breath, she made a mental checklist of the damages. Multiple bullet scuffs. Upper arm and back. Intermediate tissue damage--not the worst she'd experienced but enough to ruin her new coat. Pulled right shoulder, her own damn fault for using it like a cushion. New coat damage confirmed. Much chagrin to be had. Minor abrasions to same side hip and knee. Seventh thoracic rib through ninth--she grimaced as she found the exact locations--definitely fractured if not broken.

    Nice piece of work you've done to yourself ol' girl, and all for some wankers who were probably too juiced to even notice who they were shooting at.

    Jadai redirected her attention as her descry implants alerted her to a new presence nearby. Looking up, she found a man dressed in a fitted black ensemble leaning against the back wall.

    If it weren't for the nanobots coursing through her synapses telling her otherwise, Jadai supposed he could've easily passed as human--so long as he steered cleared of any magnets stronger than 3 Teslas. But his robotics flagged cyborg so obviously that he may as well have been wearing a polo that read "I am Centech's bitch" across the chest. A false man on a false wall.

    A smile spread slowly across her lips. Maybe this assignation wasn't a total bust after all.

    "Theo mentioned you might find some trouble on the way in." His human voice was low and sonorous. His accent mid-American. She didn't need her tech to know that he was studying her as well, though him using only his natural human senses.

    Now how was that for a piece of irony? Jadai had to smirk again.

    Pushing away from the wall, the bogey crouched down before her and had the nerve to look affable. "I think Theo understated."

    His human features were athletic and well-formed. In fact she decided, once he was at eye-level, the man was a real beaut for an aegis-class bionic. Straight nose, clear skin, and unruly auburn hair--lovely candy coating for an automaton that could tear a soldier limb from limb without batting an organic eyelash.

    "Well now, you're not from the typical ex-con stock Centech takes to harvesting now are you, lover boy?" she mused out loud.

    The bogey reached behind him and pulled out a gun. Her gun.

    "Where's the file?" he said.

    "So that's where she went!" Jadai exclaimed, flashing him a wolfish grin. "How kind of you to bring my dear partner back to me." She held out a hand expectantly toward him.

    Unaffected, he leaned in so close that she felt his soft breath by her ear and his free hand wrap gently around her throat. He pressed the barrel of the gun against her bruised side until she cried out--and cocked the hammer.

    "We don't have time for games, girl. Where's the damn file?"

    Jadai placed a hand over the gun so that her thumb slid teasingly over his finger on the trigger. She winked and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

    "You're holding it," she whispered and pressed down. "Sweet dreams."

    A small ripple of energy radiated out from the weapon as the hammer engaged an electromagnetic pulse reaction hidden in the chamber. The man didn't even have time to look surprised before his body went limp and slumped sideways onto the couch.

    Wiggling herself out carefully from under his dead weight, Jadai let loose a string of profanities she'd been storing up as her side and shoulder protested to the abuse. Maneuvering gingerly into a standing position, she removed the false gun from the false man and linked into her communicator.

    "Ho' there, Theo!...No, the Luminary file is gone--Shut up and listen for once." She glanced at her catch--looking for all the world as though he were napping peacefully on the tacky couch--and grinned. "We've got ourselves an even bigger fish to fry tonight."

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Quitting (Sunday Sample #1)


    Snow took a deep breath and repeated herself. "I said, I quit. I'm done with the Sabers. I'm done with the bullshit."

    And I'm done with Kel, she added mentally. But that was another story--one that her brother definitely didn't need to hear.

    The large, half-German man looked unmoved. Folding his muscular arms, he gave her a contemptuous look.

    "Just like that huh? Just that easy?"

    His tone was deliberate, but she could tell there was a storm building up in his deep blue eyes--their mother's eyes. For some reason, it was always at these times that she couldn't help but take stock of just how different she and Mikhail were. Even by appearance, she was night and he was day.

    Snow kept her gaze intently on the space beyond her brother’s shoulder.

    “Yeah. You got a problem with that?”

    There was a tangible drop in air pressure as Mikhail inhaled, as if all the oxygen in the room was being sucked into his massive lungs. Snow leaned her weight into table she was perched against and braced herself. She had been anticipating her brother’s reaction from the moment she'd made up her mind to come home.

    "You disobey my rules and run away from my house. You don't call or text for damn near four years and get yourself mixed up in fuck knows what kind of shit. Two months ago, you bring a fucking hooligan half-drowned in gasoline to my doorstep. And now you're done? Just like that?”

    Snow rolled her shoulders and checked her nails. Her brother certainly wasn’t done.

    “Do you think everything in life's just some sort of fucked up game?! Like you can just stroll in and out of the biggest fucking gang in Gotham like you can your own family?!"

    Snow squeezed her eyes shut and felt her own bile rise to a boiling point. Now he'd crossed the line.

    "That's some nerve you've got bringing up family, Fubuki.” She spat the name out, finally meeting his gaze with a cool befitting her name. "The Kurogane clan was dishonored by treachery and deceit, and your answer was to run away while Father and aniki drowned in their own blood--the fuck do you know about family?"

    She shifted lithely as a fist crashed into the dry wall behind her.

    Right on the money. Snow fleered without enthusiasm and took a seat neatly in the chair he had abandoned.

    Footsteps came rushing down the stairs. Mikhail didn’t bother withdrawing his hand before he sent his other fist crashing through the yet-unharmed expanse of wall right next to the first hole. He was practically fuming from the ears, veins standing out from the well-defined muscles in his arms and neck.

    "Don't. You. Ever--"

    And without warning, his wife Dallandra was there. Coaxing him, whispering something urgently by his ear.

    Snow couldn't help but watch in awe as her brother's expression transformed from blind rage to smothered exasperation and finally to defeat in a matter of seconds.

    Collapsing into an armchair hard enough that the legs made an audible screech against the linoleum, he resumed his smoldering glare as he brushed flakes of plaster and fiberglass from his knuckles.

    "So what the hell are you doing here?" he growled.

    Releasing a breath she didn't realize she was holding, Snow fished a cigarette out of her purse and shrugged as she lit it.

    "Simple. You deal what I want," she replied, as casually as she could manage. “What they all want.”

    Smoke unfurled through the space between them, dressing the silence in the room with a nebulous haze. Her hand trembled involuntarily as she tapped the ash from the cigarette and watched out of the corner of her eye as realization dawned on the man.

    "Nymph..? You got hooked on.. Nymph?"

    Snow found she could no longer meet his gaze.

    "It was an accident, okay? I mean--it doesn't really matter how it happened. What’s done is done. It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help it. I...I’m sorry."

    Even in her own ears, the words sounded weak and meaningless. But it wasn’t her fault that Tony Lester was running a whorehouse under the old club and using drugs to control his girls. It wasn’t her fault that her only ticket out was falling in with the Sabers and that Kel exacerbated her addiction. She didn’t know until it was all too late, so it wasn’t her fault. Right?

    "Why didn’t you ever tell me..?"

    His anger replaced by incredulity, her brother suddenly sounded very tired and out of place.

    "I'll go straighten up your room," Dallandra said.

    "I'm sorry.." Snow found herself repeating lamely, as she snuffed out the cigarette.

    Mikhail shook his head and ran his hands over his face.

    "Christ," was all he could say.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Devise to Demise: Developing A Character To DEATH

    Have you ever spent hours slaving over a work of art until it was just short of perfect, but then instead of backing off and accepting the rationalization that nothing is ever perfect and that any further tweaking will inevitably result in the undoing of Everything Good and Wonderful, you stubbornly carry on, brandishing pen, palette or paint brush as if you were some kind of reinvented Michelangelo and the bloody screaming corpses of the Medici themselves had come back from the grave just to commission one last masterpiece? That is. Right up until you wear an irreparable, flaming, gaping hole right through the center of your precious creation?

    For me, the worst part was learning that this disease of killing your work with love is not restricted to art. Writers are not immune to polish-the-ever-living-crap-out-of-it-itis!

    In high school, back when the world was...not-so-young...and Pluto was still a planet—okay fine, so it wasn't that long ago—the Pagemasters (AKA Ladies Pendragon) and I used to make up characters and stories together through a combination of role-playing and notebook-passing. (Scribe recently exposed us on her blog about collaborations so I guess by "used to" I mean still do and by "make up" I mean rabidly crank out like house elves on LSD and crack rocks.. But we've upgraded from notebooks to Google docs! And we've matured from role-playing Look. DON'TJUDGEME.)

    We all made characters and spent years developing the ever-living crap out of them. Most of the time the results were good. We ended up with characters who were healthy complex individuals with realistic problems, meaningful aspirations and shining personalities. I'm sorry. Who am I kidding? They were mostly veritable basket cases with serious life problems, megalomaniacal tendencies and fangs. But we did come up with some awesome stuff too.

    Adryn accomplished the 50,000 word goal for NaNoWriMo this past November with characters she'd been playing with us since before we all had driver's licenses. Scribe is well on her way to completing an epic trilogy she's had in the works for over a decade featuring characters she used to sketch into the margins of her Latin notebooks.

    I recently picked up The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie and one of the praises on the back of the book really stood out to me. Scott Lynch, the author of The Lies of Locke Lamora and coincidentally another favorite author of mine, wrote: "If you're fond of bloodless, turgid fantasy with characters as thin as newspaper and as boring as plaster saints, Joe Abercrombie is really going to ruin your day. A long career for this guy would be a gift to our genre."

    So character development is fun and character development is good. It also goes without saying that character development is one of the most important, if not the most crucial, aspects of a strong story. But like all things fun and good, can there be such a thing as too much? Is it possible to over-develop a character?

    Just like over-editing a drawing can result in eraser burns on your subject, I believe that it's also possible to smite a character with over-thinking.

    Mainly, because I've done it before.

    Unlike my friends Adryn and Scribe, most of my brainchildren from high school have never seen the light of day, let alone the light of a computer screen. Reason? I strangled them in the womb with their own umbilical cords.

    While the rest of my cohorts formed up just enough description to breath life into a unique operative being and saved the development stage for pen, paper and notepad, I closed in on my own grey matter, analyzing and delineating every detail of my potential Frankenstein. As if not knowing my characters' favorite flavor of ice cream and political disposition on the Rape of Nanking before I presented them to the world would somehow prevent them from being functional in their respective stories. This is embarrassing to admit but I once mapped out an entire time line for a single character from birth to death because I thought that by knowing everything there was to know about her, I would be able to write her better.

    Needless to say, I was dead wrong.

    Knowing everything there is to know about your character doesn't mean that your character is well-developed. Hell, it doesn't even necessarily mean that you have a viable character. To illustrate my point (because I don't do enough of that *sarcasm*) I'm going to tell you all about a very small friend of mine.

    S. aureus is a nonmotile, nonspore-forming facultative anaerobic bacterium that can be found on the skin of about 20% of the human population. Morphologically it is a cluster-forming cocci, so under the microscope it typically looks like bunches of grapes. It is Gram-positive, catalase-positive and coagulase-positive which sets it apart from the rest of the Staphylococcaceae family. Grown on an agar plate, S. aureus forms the large golden colonies for which it is named—aureus is Latin for "golden". It is ubiquitous and usually harmless, but certains strains can cause suppurative infections, as well as food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.

    There. I just told you more or less everything there is to know about the microbe which causes Staph infections.

    Does this now mean S. aureus is well-developed as a character? No.

    Does this make S. aureus unique and distinctive from other bacteria? Maybe. But I can tell you from personal experience that without a microscope and testing, it's actually quite hard to distinguish from its close relative S. epidermidis.  

    Does this even make bacteria more interesting? Well.. that can be argued.

    The point is, what I just created was not a character but a fact sheet and even though I just wasted an hour of brain power reviewing my microbiology 101 notes from college, you probably still don't give a hot-damn about S. aureus. So I'm exhausted, you're disinterested and I still don't have a candidate for building into good story.

    Now, bring it all back to my original anecdote on character development and the Pagemasters, stretch it out over about 10 years or so, and you have my diagnosis for literary cancer which killed just about every poor character I thought up in high school. May they all rest in their pieces.

    The biggest difference between me and the rest of my friends?

    They treated their characters like people. I treated my characters like lab reports.

    What I've learned and need to act upon:
    • Details DO NOT EQUAL Development.
    • The same things that make real people interesting can make characters interesting as well, i.e., John's fear of spiders could be more of a take-off point than Gandalegolas's sword-chucking prowess. 
    • Sometimes, it's not about what you know; it's about what you don't know. 
    • Let your character do the talking. 
    • Leave room for fan-fiction. Personally, I'm not even a fan of fan-fiction. But before you spend precious time coming up with useless factoids like your character favorite cheese and his mother's maiden name, ask yourself: "Will I write this in my story?" and "Does anyone care?"
    • Stop caring.

    Friday, February 25, 2011

    Of Gods & Shadows (Flash Friday #1)

    There was a certain kind of morbid beauty to the snowflakes lighting delicately onto the dark liquid creeping into her inverted field of vision.

    Her blood. Its blood. All mixed in an inky pool beneath her body now slumped uselessly in the snow bank she had—ironically enough—chosen as a strategic point of cover while on the hunt for lesser game.

    She had not seen the dark-kin coming. For all the grueling training she had endured through her short lifetime and all the battlefield experience she had garnered as the Commander-in-Training to world’s largest standing military, she was no match for a single wildspawn born from the blood and ashes of Chaos.

    She would laugh if her lungs had air.

    For the first time in all her nineteen years of life, Taliarain Relvir, who had toppled nations and rescued kings, who had courted death-defying odds and survived the Ordeal of the Fey, knew she would die.

    A flurry of motion at the edge of her fading vision reminded her that her aggressor was still alive, though adequately damaged—a fact she could at least be proud of when facing Death's dream—but nonetheless ready to finalize its fatal pact with her piteously expired form.

    Oh well.. she thought, closing her eyes. At least it was not a dishonorable death...

    * * *

    In the dream, she was alone in the vast Blackwoods of Edenea and, though she knew Edengarde to be hundreds of leagues beyond the gnarled black canopy, it did not seem at all amiss to see the delicate crystalline spires of Castle Kilberharl bracket the darkened sky. Not just the sky. Her surroundings too, were unnaturally dim, as if the entire world was suspended in everlasting twilight, with shadows—stretched too long—always itching just at the border of her vision.

    But it was the snow that gave it away. 

    Elaborately filigreed and over-large flakes of it floated gracefully through the air. Yet for some reason, she was garbed in little more than an impractically low-cut dress. Doubly impractical, for it was so long that the hem of the silk brushed the tops of her bare-feet and dragged heavily on ground behind her when she walked. Talia realized that she could walk, though she could not hear the muted crush of snow beneath her feet nor feel the gelid kiss of snowflakes on her skin.

    She wrapped her bare arms about herself and shivered despite the absence of cold.

    Is this Death's dream of me..?

    As if in response, a dark silhouette darted past her periphery. Somehow, without warning, she knew in her heart it was the dark-kin returned to finish its grizzly task, and with neither weapon nor cover to defend herself, Talia realized that she couldn't even flinch away as its talons found her flesh...

    Only this time, there was no pain.

    Instead, an earsplitting scream pierced the air followed by a muffled thump as the beast crashed to the ground before her. Talia opened her eyes and regarded the corpse at her feet. 

    I'm still.. Alive...?

    She watched incredulously as the shadows beneath the body extended into inky tendrils and enveloped the dark-kin's crumpled form. When it was done, the umber shrunk back and sunk into the earth, leaving a soft mound of virgin snow in its place.

    Without looking, once again, Talia sensed she was not alone.

    Lifting up the long, ridiculous train of her dress, she stepped carefully over the space where the beast had fallen and walked slowly towards the new presence. In the void between where she had come from and the world-that-lay-beyond now stood a massive black Wolf.

    She was not afraid. 

    Instead, she swept into a deep bow, not daring to move again until she felt him move close enough that his warm breath tickled the back of her neck. Straightening regally, she leveled with the Wolf's serene and overwhelmingly perceptive gaze. Violet dusk met brilliant green and, after a moment of that seemed to stand still for an era, the Wolf lowered his great head and licked her shoulder. 

    She had passed.

    The sensation was beyond what her mortal vocabulary could describe, but the feeling was what she supposed it would be like to swallow a falling star—ecstatic, miraculous, and heartbreakingly joyous. Without thinking, she reached out both hands to steady herself against him and found the fur of the Wolf to be at once plush and rough. It took every modicum of her self-control to pull away.

    Fortunately, the old god didn't seem to mind—or notice—which, she wasn't sure, for next he spoke, and his voiceless words were such a deep, rich rumble in her soul that she found it hard to think of anything else.

    Not yet, my warrior queen. You still have much to do for the Children of Men... 

    It was not a question.

    Now come to me and I will carry you home...

    So saying, the Wolf lowered his head even further and impossibly gently—and impossibly quick—his great mouth closed about her left hip and tossed her effortlessly onto his back.

    Hold tight, Daughter of my Dream.. and remember, the gods are always watching...

    With that, and a jolt, Talia gasped as her first conscious breath of air in three moons hit her lungs.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    The World's Smallest Violin

    It's been just under two years since the last time I attempted to blog, journal or otherwise publicize my inane ramblings on the world wide web. That being said, I have accomplished quite a lot of not-writing in this span of time and done a rather bang-up job of violating, in every way possible, the writer's central precept of "write every day". So, in the event that you are actually someone who cares about me personally (in which case you probably already know this) or are—in a completely hypothetical and delusional world—following me over from my LJ alias of waywardwhim (why the hell would you do that?) here's the five minute version of all the not-writing that happened since winter 2009.

    Study abroad at Sophia University (Tokyo) 
    During which I was inflicted upon my fellow writer and best friend of 10 years L. Scribe Harris who was working in Tokyo at the time. For six straight months poor Scribe had to live with me in her one-bedroom apartment, which was small enough to where, if we held hands, we could collectively touch every wall of our entire living space simultaneously; I don't think I snore but someone give this woman a medal.

    Graduation from NC State University (Class of 2009) 
    Somehow,  between 5½ years of indecision and two senior seminars that demanded the academic equivalent of ritual self-flagellation every night for a semester, I finally walked away from the college experience with a B.S. in Microbiology, a B.A. in International Studies, and Ph.D. in WTF do I do now? Well, what will you do now, you ask? Tch, be unemployed of course...! 

    Unemployment (Winter 2010)
    Just like all the rest of the pitiful suckers who brilliantly planned their graduation for December 2009, I was  jobless and sitting on my ass, feeling sorry for myself for the months of January through April. For those of you who missed out on the RSVP for Recession that year, let me give you the Cliff notes version: McDonald's wasn't hiring. 

    American Institute of Certified Public.. wha?
    By a bizarre twist of fate, I got hired by the last organization on Earth I would have expected to get hired by. I didn't even know what "CPA" stood for when I walked into the job fair that day. It was by freak luck that the rep at the AICPA booth noticed me and handed me an information packet. And, well, I was already throwing my résumé at every man, woman, and dog that even hinted at employment at that point, so the fact that I got the job wasn't a matter of compatibility, it was just as likely sheer statistical probability.

    Some of these activities, such as graduating or getting a job, may arguably fall under the category of "necessary", "constructive", and/or "quintessential to not sucking" but they have nonetheless provided me with a wealth of ammunition when it came to combating my nagging muse. So, Raven—you may ask—now that you're done with school and have a source of stable income, what possible excuse to not-write could you have now?

    Unfortunately, the answer to that question is precisely my problem: I don't.

    Not to dwell too long in the department of back-story, but I grew up Chinese—and by Chinese, I'm not talking about the "I was born in China" kind of Chinese. I'm referring to the we-used-our-dishwasher-as-a-dish-rack and anything-short-of-a-4.0-GPA-was-grounds-for-castigation Chinese. This may have had its pluses, i.e. when it came to getting financial backing for "academically sanctioned activities" or just having adults in your life who gave a general damn about your moral upbringing. But if your aspirations lay even halfway in the realm of the humanities, this also meant you were shit outta luck. 

    Sure. My parents made me take violin lessons from the time I was five (How else would stereotypes survive?) but this was hardly in the hopes of me becoming the next Itzhak Perlman or maybe one day securing employment in the local symphony. It was just what Chinese parents do. When I expressed aptitude in arts and language, they were not only delighted but often even encouraged my pursuit of certain hobbies, such as drawing. But the key word here is "hobbies". Art, music, drawing, sewing, writing... all of these things were just fine-and-dandy so long as they did not impede my path towards a respectable career in the hard sciences. How else would I support myself, raise a family, and have 2.5 kids and a dog?

    It is here that I should point out the hypocrisy of it all because neither of my parents are scientists. My father has a propensity for literature himself and a Ph.D in—drum roll—Economics. My mother is a teacher and brilliant artist who never did jack with her talent. The fact that I even made it through two years of applied sciences at one of the top 25 engineering institutions in the country should be considered a minor miracle. Nevertheless, time was wasted and habits were instilled, and now that we're all brought up to speed on Chicken Soup for the Chinglish Soul, maybe you begin to see the bigger picture.

    I have spent my entire life, thus far, not-writing.

    What I need to come to terms with is the fact that I am not beholden to my parents, my teachers, or anyone else for that matter anymore. Let me repeat this again so that perhaps my poor abused Pavlov's dog of a brain can understand. I am NOT beholden to my parents anymore. For the first time in my life, how I spend my time is completely and irrevocably my own fault. So this blog—among other inchoate endeavors—is a way of me saying to my muse: "Hey, look! I'm not going to put your off, ignore you,  then say terrible things to you, only to call you at 2 AM on Friday nights crying in the rain... I'm a big kid now!" No more excuses. No more not-writing. I'm my own world's smallest violinist.

    Funny enough, when I told my mother the other day that I was trying to write in my free time, her response was: "Why would you want to do that?"  So, what about you? What do you think? Have you ever left your muse out in the cold without cab-fare or gone too far to live up to other people's expectations? What are your excuses for not-writing and how do you overcome them?