Friday, February 24, 2006

Behold the Kraken






When I originally worked the god angle into Dark Roads, the male deity was draconian. I considered that and decided that dragons are more common in fantasy than I'd like. After some serious onversation with friends, I decided that a kraken represented what I needed: water, depths, cold, winter, violent power. I needed something to be a foil for the Phoenix. This is the heroine, Lucea, after capture by the Kraken.

I'm afraid a lot of detail was lost when I shrunk it. I may experiement and post a larger version if I can. Also, at risk of sounding witchy, please do NOT take this image and post it somewhere. These are my characters and this is my original artwork. If you want to post is on your site, please ASK and ATTRIBUTE it to me and link to the blog as well.

T.G.I.F. and Testing

Thank goodness I'm freaky!
I love that. It always makes my daughter roll her eyes. And dancing in the supermarket to the elevator music, that does it too, usually followed by, "Mo-om, that is sooooo embarrassing!" Hee hee hee. The only self-defense again teens driving one nuts is to go nuts in a direction of one's choosing.

It doesn't work as well with state testing, school districts and a complete lack of feasibility studies. My grandfather was an engineer. Two of my uncles are engineers. Both of my older siblings are engineers and my younger sibling is considering going back to school for it. Two of my cousins are engineers. It's fricking genetic. It also means that I grew up with people who always, always looked before they leapt. They probably measured, tested wind direction and velocity, considered the price of leaping verses other options, then, possibly, leapt. All of which is a lead up as to why I am so annoyed by disorganization on a grand scale.

The PAWS test (Proficiency Assessment of Wyoming Students) will be given in April. We have 3 testing subjects, reading, writing, and math. The reading and math have portions which must be taken online. In each, the online portion must be completed before the paper portion can be started. Each subject must be completed before another one can be started. While this does cause some scheduling difficulties, it'smerely annoying, not impossible. However, the online portions use wireless broadband width (and I am not the techno-geek of the family. My big brother would understand, I don't. I apologize if I intepreted the problem incorrectly.). Every time a student hits the "done" button on a problem, it is sent from here to central office to Casper to Cheyenne. We don't have much broadband width here. We have 800 students who need to take two tests online each, and we can only use 60 computers at any given time in the entire district.

Could the state step back and say, "Whoa, sorry. We'll try online next year. It's all paper this time around."? They could. Will they? Not on your life. This boat is gonna float, ladies and gents. If it only floats as well as the Titanic, then so be it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Perception & the Divine

At this point in the mobius strip of publishing, I have about 8 rejection letters sitting in a pile on my scanner. I also have 2 requests for partials, but one partial has been rejected, so now my hopes are pinned on one partial and various query letters.

That other partial was sent to Kristen Nelson of The Nelson Agency, who stated on her blog that all the partials she read on Monday were rejected. Odds are, mine was in the pile. I will admit, the thought leaves me blue. Then the next step, what is always the next step when setbacks occur, I must decide how to make things better.

When I was applying for jobs in Wyoming, I sent applications, cover letters, letters of recommendation, resumes and college transcripts to over 15 districts. I wasn't excited about all of them, but I knew I wanted to get back to Wyoming, and I was willing to work in Etna or Wamsutter to do it. When Greybull asked for an interview, I was delighted. Greybull is not far from the Cody/Yellowstone area. It's beautiful and I have relatives there. I loved the school and was immediately at ease with the principal. But when I returned to my apartment in Texas (and discovered that the electricity was out and everything in the fridge had gone bad) there was a message waiting for me--I hadn't gotten the job.

The next step? I called every district I had applied to but had not heard from yet and inquired if the position was still open. Some were still open, some had been filled. Unlike agents, who will send rejection letters if you remembered your SASE, school districts do not tell you a position has been filled unless you were interviewed. I let the districts with open positions know that I was still interested.

I did get a job here. And though I was upset about not being hired in Greybull, I'm now glad. Recently, the aircraft maintinence plant in Greybull shut down. It was the only industry and the only place where my welder husband would have been employed. Here, there are several mines and two powerplants that employ welders. God knew where he wanted me, and where would be best.

So back to my manuscript, which is not for many people, or does not meet their needs at the current time. On her blog yesterday, Kristin points out some reasons that authors might receive a rejection. I won't go through them. If you want to see them, go to www.pubrants.blogspot.com

I don't think my writing is weak, though I'll admit that it might not be fantastic. I get mixed reactions from people, but no one has ever said that it's bad. I don't think my plot line is same-old same-old, though I do admit to haveing some fantasy cliches. The herorine's famliy and village are destroyed. She is coming into mysterious power. Her father is the bad guy. But I think those elements are mixed with enough originality within plot, setting and character. So maybe I'm guilty of being only mediocre--and what a deep fear that is. Mediocre story and writing . . .
And that's unacceptable to me. If it isn't good enough, I will revise some more, rewrite if necessary, go on to another, better book, but I will get there. As with my job search, God will guide me to the right agent, the right publisher, and the right words to put on the page.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chilly days

We are heading into the first sub-zero week of 2006. The high today will be *drumroll* -4. Plus a wind chill. That's cold enough to freeze the boogers in your nose, as my kids like to point out. Nothing makes a body want to stay in bed with a heating pad and good book like that. (Or stay in bed with hot hubby--book not needed).

Sports prevails over all, though. We received about one foot of snow. In my hometown, my parents got over two. They closed school yesterday, but the basketball games scheduled with them were still on. Then we heard that the girls game would be cancelled. Why? Because the refs they wanted were snowed in in Laramie.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Let it snow, let it blow

let us have a snow day.
The most recent storm system dropped about a foot of powder here. This isn't so unusual, but it did without a breath of wind. For those of you who don't live here, Wyoming and wind can often be synonymous. The lack of wind also meant that we had school today.

41 of my 112 students were absent due to road conditions or the flu, but we carried on. My hubby stayed home today because the road to his workplace was closed, and my daughter is in bed with the flu as well, and I'm just itching to work on some writing.

I have a manuscript to edit. I have its sequel to work on. I have another fantasy idea that is tugging at my brain (now that I've read Nephele Tempest's post about a portal romance line). And out of the blue, this idea for a mystery romance set here in Wyoming has bubbled up.

So why am I bumming around the net and posting on my blog? Good question.

Adios.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The war on excessive verbage: part 1

Those who follow my spurts of book-related-anxiety know that I have been trying to cut my word-count down. I've often told my kids that verbs are the backbone of the writing. If you don't have good verbs, everything falls flat fast. In honor of that, and in humble realization that I was not following these rule myself while I drafted, I have some verb advice:

Never use two verbs where one will do the job

This affects your helping verbs, especially am, is, are, was and were. These are usually followed by another verb ending in -ing. This combination is called the progressive tense because it indicates an action in progress (take notes, there will be a test later). From a writer's point of view, the difference between something in progress and something that happens and ends is huge. As a reader it's . . . not so huge. Think about the differences of the following:

She was trying to open the door.

She tried to open the door.

Yeah, there is a difference between the two, but it's slight. And the trying has to end eventually. The progressive tense is completely out on its ear, but it should only be used when it's absolutely the only way to convey an image. Otherwise, it's one word that can go.

Another problem, one I am completely guilty of, is the over use of started or began. As in, "She began to shiver." Okay, so she did just start, but "She shivered." works too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

You must live in Wyoming

If . . .

You look forward to blizzards because you need the moisture.

you were a bit offended when you thought Brokeback Mountain was about gay cowboys, but then you learned they were sheepherders and you thought it was a pretty good joke.

Any day when the wind is 20 mph or slower is nice.

You swear up and down that the antelope (and deer and elk) know the exact dates of hunting season and plan accordingly.

And you have anecdotal evidence.

Your son writes every poem, essay and short story for English class about elk and you are so proud.

You know that real cowboys wear work boots and baseball caps. People who wear cowboy boots and hats are probably truckers.

Spring smells like feedlots and silage pits.

Easter is more likely to be white than Christmas.

Your daughter can out-shoot all the boys and gut-out and skin her own kills.

You think a Colt .45 is an excellent graduation present.

You think a Buck knife is an excellent confirmation present.

Tight jeans are still in.

You visit the Oregon Trail Ruts more often than you visit your grandparents.

Monday, February 13, 2006

February

Several years ago, a Garfield cartoon summed everything about this month up: February is the armpit of the year.

I can never seem to keep things together this time of year. Today, I went out at lunch to run some errands and completely missed a parent-teacher meeting. the rest of the team was there. The principal was there. I was not. I am so dead.

The district writing assessment is finished and turned in to the head of the dept. We're working on editorials. At the end of the month, we start our multi-genre research project. If you don't know what one is, look up Tom Romano. The man is a demi-god of teaching writing.

I've received two requests for partials. One has been sent. The other I'm getting together. I ran out of large envelopes--that was one of those lunch errands. On one hand, things are going well. On the other, I feel like running away. Or locking myself in a closet and crying. Yeah, I get S.A.D. in a terrible way. My hubby would like me to look into anti-depressants, but we're trying to get pregnant (still no luck) and I would have to stop taking them anyway.

I did find twenty CD's of classical music for about $15 at Sam's. I am in love with Bach's Brandenburg concertos. I'm descended fromt he Brandenburgs. My side of the family got disowned for marrying a Jewess.

February

Several years ago, a Garfield cartoon summed everything about this month up: February is the armpit of the year.

I can never seem to keep things together this time of year. Today, I went out at lunch to run some errands and completely missed a parent-teacher meeting. the rest of the team was there. The principal was there. I was not. I am so dead.

The district writing assessment is finished and turned in to the head of the dept. We're working on editorials. At the end of the month, we start our multi-genre research project. If you don't know what one is, look up Tom Romano. The man is a demi-god of teaching writing.

I've received two requests for partials. One has been sent. The other I'm getting together. I ran out of large envelopes--that was one of those lunch errands. On one hand, things are going well. On the other, I feel like running away. Or locking myself in a closet and crying. Yeah, I get S.A.D. in a terrible way. My hubby would like me to look into anti-depressants, but we're trying to get pregnant (still no luck) and I would have to stop taking them anyway.

I did find twenty CD's of classical music for about $15 at Sam's. I am in love with Bach's Brandenburg concertos. I'm descended fromt he Brandenburgs. My side of the family got disowned for marrying a Jewess.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

All She Ever Wanted

By Lynn Austin.

I intentionally picked up a few non-fantasy books at the library (following my own advice that fantasy authors should read a variety of work). This one was sitting prominently on one of the display shelves and, to be honest, I liked the colors on the cover (I feel so shallow now, but it's the library, it's free, and I'm an extremely visual person. Google Rebecca L. Fuentes Elfwood and check out the artwork . . .). I enjoyed it, mostly.

The story covers the tension between a woman, Kathleen, and her daughter, Joelle, jumps back to Kathleen's childhood, then later jumps back to Kathleen's mother, Eleanor, and her early twenties. After a brief time back in the present with Kathleen and Joelle, the book jumps back again, to the story of Kathleen's grandmother, Eleanor's mother, Fiona. I loved the historical parts and enjoyed how the author wove together the stories. I thought the parts flashing back were the most interesting parts of the book. In fact, I thought the book was great until page 395, when everything went superficial superfast.

Kathleen grew up on the poor side of town; her mother did nothing all day; her uncle who lived with them was an outspoken communist (this was the 50's); her father stole to provide for them and spent long periods of time in jail; her brothers were the town hoodlums. It was no surprise that she got out when she could and stayed out. The story revolves around her going back to see them nearly 30 years after she left. We know it will work out, because it's a book. Books have happy endings (mostly. Some of mine don't. Sorry, but I did mention that Greek tragedies were some of my favorite reading in HS.) There's a difference between happy and perfectly pat. This one is pat.

Not only has her family done well, they've blossomed amazingly. Daddy (Who went to jail for murdering her mother but is innocent) is a born-again Christian. Her brothers are pillars of the community. Even the communist uncle has allowed religion to seep into his life. I know the title says it, but it's all too perfect for me. Going back after 30 years and no one says "Why didn't you call?" "I was your little sister, you knew Mom was dead, why didn't you take care of me?" Nothing. Everyone was just hunky dory with each other. After 394 good pages, she lost me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Que piensas de esto?

Until I started searching for agents, I had not heard of Latina Fiction. It hadn't even occured to me. How embarrassing. I taught English in Texas for 5 years. Over 80% of my students were Hispanic, and half of those spoke Spanish as their first language, like my husband. I read their writing and of course it was different from that of my caucasian students. I simply never made the next logical step, that those different writers would have different tastes in reading.

Is there much YA Latino literature out there? I know about Esperanza Rising and there are some beautiful picture books (They're at school and I can't remember the author's name), and I finally found some bilingual board books in anticipation of someday conceiving a little snickedoodle baby and raising him or her in both our lanuages. But I honestly have not seen books geared for middle and highs chool students of Hispanic origin.

And I am suddenly tempted to step outside of the fantasy genre. I've never written for the YA crowd. My books always seem to contain too much sex and violence for that (but golly, I modelled part of the culture on the Aztecs, and they weren't exactly peaceful folks). I no longer have the papers my Hispanics wrote, but I remember the discussions, the sharing, the darkness that was so much a part of their lives, right next to the flamboyance of voice and fashion and music.

My Hispanic students wrote about seeing Death walking the streets of Cactus. They wrote about uncles left dismembered by the Mexican Mafia and fathers in jail for running drugs. They wrote about their homies and their primos. At family gatherings, my husband and I might arrive to hear that Grandpa went to the cuanderno again or that Dolores, my oldest sister-in-law, tried to curse us. Oh, and my brother-in-law Alfredo is back with Olga and nephew Jose de Lucio is dating Olga's daughter Christine and Susie is cheating on Jesse and . . . I could write a soap opera of those stories.

The stories that worked for so long may not work for a population of young Hispanics. They don't believe in perfectly happy endings, though they accept the imperfect ones.

Will you speak for Graff, Ender?

I recently finished Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. It's a little embarrassing to admit that, strong sci-fi/fantasy fan that I am, I waited a long time before reading it. It is an imprssive book; if I could find 24 affordable copies, I would read it with my advanced duided reading group. A few things really struck me about it.

Card's writing style has not 'aged'. Ender has been in this world as long as I have. Unless I write something spectacular, he will be remembered longer. It is usually easy to spot books that were written before I went to high school, or before I was born. Honestly, Tolkien would get published today--his style and pacing are not what people want. The same with Melville and Austen. doesn't have that problem. The pacing is tight. The style is enjoyable. I was suprised to look at the copyright (the first one) and see the age of the story because the writing was timeless.

I teach, so perhaps the second realization shouldn't be a surprize. I identified more with Graff, who is the head of Ender's school, more than Ender. Graff pushes ender. He intentionally isolates him. He cuases intentional problems between Ender and the other boys. His determination to make Ender solve his own problems (and therefore learn to be a leader who will save humanity) leads to a boy's death. Horrifying. He is charged with this, in the end. But I understand. None of my students are in line to save the world, but I understand being an enemy to be a friend. Giving students an easy way out will not help them grow, so there are consequences for not doing homework, for not paying attention, for not bringing materials to class. Forgetting a paper seems like a little thing. Forgetting your mortgage payment will add up to trouble fast. So I can be mean, but it's to help them later.

Ender speaks for the Buggers. He speaks for Peter. Speak for Graff too, Ender, even if it's private. Speak for the teacher who helped form you into a savior.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dogs with power steering

Must rant . . .

Why is it so hard for some folks to follow simple, clear rules? Like the local leash laws for dogs. I love Sutter, but he's not perfect. He is dog aggressive, and smart enough to know that dogs on leashes aren't a threat. We met four people, and a total of five unleashed dogs, in less than 2 miles today.

Sutter is a doberman/pitbull/German shorthair/God-knows-what cross. He isn't small and he is strong. I keep him on a leash and a pinch collar at all times because if any dog needed power sterring, it's him. When I see someone coming with a dog, I go as far off the trail as I can, put Sutter into a sit, and wait for them to go by. He'll raise his hackles, but won't go after the dog. This is an immense improvement from when I first adopted him.

I went to great lengths and took a lot of time to ensure that my dog is under my control at all times, but when someone's collie runs right up to us, there isn't much I can do. Sutter has to school them about his personal space. The alternative is me swiftly kicking the oher dog.

And people, when I tell you that my dog is dog-aggressive, don't come back with some inane comment like, "Oh my Fluffy gets along with everyone." Sutter is going to eat Fluffy for breakfast. Get a leash and teach your dog to walk on it!

Monday, February 06, 2006

What's in a setting?

I generally consider my writing to be character driven. The characters were conceived long before th eplot, their actions or reaction affect the outcome and there is a great deal of personal growth for both the male and female main characters. Trying to express all that, as well as the plot, in a query letter or synopsis is hard enough. Incorporating the setting is nearly impossible.

When I started writing Dark Roads, I pictured the setting as the usual psedo-medieval world with swords, carriages and bad lighting. This worked with the basic plotline, but as the story fleshed out, some hitches arose. One of the driving elements behind the plot is the slipping power of the major religion, which leads to the antagonists more desperate actions. This wasn't working with the setting. The other problem was my knowledge of swords--or lack thereof. Swords are sharp; stick the pointy end into the enemy. Swords are probably heavy. They make cool props if one happens to be posing for a figure drawing class (nude or clothed, take your pick).

I don't know how much a sword weighs, how to use one, how to train with one or how much one would cost for the average illegitimate witch girl. Swords become important in figh scenes and my lack was showing. I do know quite a bit about firearms. I've been shooting since I was 5, hunting since I was 10, and my father is a gunsmith. He has corrected the labels on historic firearms in the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum.

On my third draft, I decided to completely redo the setting. It is closer to mid-1800's USA/Mexico. The Age of Reason is here, science is blossoming. Trains have begun to conquer the plains. Steamboats chug up the major rivers. And Knoton Rahvan, immortal high inquisitor, is grasping at straws to keep the power of the temple intact.

I consider this to be one of the most unique parts of the book, but it is understated in the writing and in my query and synopsis. I usually manage to interject a line about "a world on the brink of an industrial revolution".

Friday, February 03, 2006

Anna Botello

Anne dies before the story ever starts, but her memories, and abilities, are and important part of Flor's personality. Anna is the assassin Flor killed. The intensity of the moment, the contact with Anna's blood, flooded Flor with Anna's memories. She distinguishes between them, but memory forms personality, and Flor now remembers a much different life than that of a sheltered debutant.

Anna's mother was a minor singer in the Kaptharian Opera House. Her career was cut short by her pregnancy and she eventually turned to prostitution to keep herself and Anna fed, clothed and housed. While Mother Botello turned tricks, Anna stayed with the apothecary and his wife. Though her mother dreamed of Anna becoming a singer or dancer in the opera, Anna was much more interested in the bottles and measures of the apothecary. She was thirteen when she realized that some medicines can be deadly in certain amounts or combinations. She was fourteen when she used this to murder one of her mother's customers who became violent.

Anna never wanted to live like her mother. When Marasute, the crime lord of Kapthara, Gravia and Gooddock offered her a fortune to eliminate a senator without suspicion, she accepted. Withing a few years, her value as a covert assassin grew. She did not handle weapons--poisons were her specialty. She usually entered the house as a maid. Who notices the maid? And some poisons took days or weeks to finally kill someone. She could be gone from the house long before anyone died.

When she accepted an assignment to kill Donato D'Adano, she was certain it would be easy.

Flor remembers the poisons. She remembers Anna's life as intimately as her own. Though dead, anna is real to her and that strong presence kept her going in the asylum. When she leaves, she is as much Anna as she is Flor.

Feeling listless?

I'm listing today, mostly to the right, but occasionally to the left. Terribly dangerous, since the walls are brick.

To Do List:
1. continue editng my book for length
2. finish entering grades (I'm and A-1 procrastinatior)
3. finish scene in current novel
4. put away clean laundry
5. buy dog food
6. walk dog
7. go to movies

Authors I Love:
1. George R.R. Martin
2. Lois McMaster Bujold
3. Michelle West
4. Neil Gaiman
5. Terry Pratchett
6. Orson Scott Card
7. Diana Wynn Jones

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Fantasy

In her blog Pub Rants Agent Kristen Nelson talks about chick lit, and the lack of editors buying it. I know from my own agent searches that more agents represent chick lit than fantasy, so I was suprised. I also read a few more of the comments under the first post about fantasy openings. The second from the bottom is offensive, not because it's totally false, but because there is a little truth at the root of it.

I love fantasy fiction and have since I was very young. I started with Grimms and Anderson's Fairy tales, went on to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and had finished the Simarillian three times before high school. Fantasy was how I made it through life, and the margins of my notes are illustrated with whatever characters happened to be on my mind at the time. This has been a long-term love affair with the genre.

Lately, very few fantasy books have appealed to me. Actually, to only fantasy books I've read recently that I truly enjoyed were several of Terry Pratchett's newer books and Lois McMaster Bujold's fantasy triplets The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt (which I am currently reading). Many fantasy books I pick up feel . . . juvenile. Cliche. I am hit with a sense of nothing-new-under-the-sun and nobody-even-doing-an-interesting-retelling. I have a few theories on why this happens and why some people don't notice.

Because fantasy authors can make up their own worlds, we get sloppy. Sometimes, we get lazy. And we get so caught up in this world we're creating that we overlook the parts that don't make a lick of sense. The worst fantasy is fantasy derived solely from other fantasy. Yes, an author needs to be well grounded in his or her genre, but a historical writer also does research. A contemporary author grounds him/herself in reality. Fantasy authors need to take time and step out of their genre and read non-fiction, read lit. fic., read the newspaper, and draw ideas from there. And they should study history, mythology, folklore, legends, cultures and archeology. These are a fantasy writers primary source. Reading only fantasy and then writing fantasy is like the historian who only uses secondary sources to research.

Fantasy is still a genre that conjures up images of pimply teenage boysjoking about orcs--at least for some people. Fantasy protagonists are often tailored to appeal to the disillusionment and lonliness of teens. This works for that readership, but I'm nearly thirty. I have step-daughter in 7th grade, a mortgage, and a fulltime job. Whining about not being understood or being so bored with your hometown is not going to entice me. (I teach 7th grade; I have little patience with whining of any sort anymore). I recently tried to read an award winning fantasy novel published a few years ago. I picked it up because one of the agents I queried represented this author (and stil does) and I wanted to read some of their list. I'm glad I only picked it up at the library.

If I had read this book in HS,I would have enjoyed it, I think. If I read it in college, especially after finals week, I probably would have enjoyed it. I didn't enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the writing. The writing was good, the style a bit more flowery than mine, but not terribly so. It was the protagonist. He was pathetic. I could not drench up one ounce of feeling for him. Not empathy, not disgust, not anger. Nothing. I didn't care what happened to him. I didn't read past chapter 3.

I would not have read Eragon, which is so popular with my students, if my YA book club here at the school hadn't picked it. They paid for it, the least I could do was read it. By page 40, I was ready to put it down. By page 80, I did, and left it down for several months. It does get a little better by page 200, but there is nothing new in it. Does it appeal to 13-yr-olds who haven't spent years reading fantasy? Yes. Do I mind? No. Those kids will hopefully grow up and still love and read and buy fantasy novels.

So, what is Bujold doing right? Her characters are mature. They have mature problems, like family issues, not-so-happy pasts, etc. They often have jobs. They have people they are accountable to and they don't run off and leave them. They blunder, but it's logical blundering, not stupid, headstrong blundering. They see the world as more than just a place to get happy or get rich--and I like the underlying spiritual themes she uses. If I could write like Bujold . . . *sigh* And if wishes were horses . . .

I have to guard myself against cliches as it is. It is helpful to recall what else I read in my formative years. It wasn't all fantasy. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas were and are favorites(and probably help account for my enormous word count). I read a great deal of Greek tragedy, and world folklore. Fantasy can be incredible. It can include social commentary or explore the relationship between people and the supernatural. It provides an escape, just like most literature. Right now, it needs more great writing and less mediocrity. I hope I can add something to the genre.