I asked M'ris to ask me five questions, and she did. Here are the answers.
1. What drives you most nuts in a protagonist?
Stupidity, especially when combined with whininess and/or behaviour inexplicable other than its necessity to the plot.
Worst offender in recent memory: Meg Cabot's teenage protagonist Jess in the 1-800-Where-R-You books. Rather than doing anything useful when discovering that she can unfailingly locate missing people, our girl Jess avoids just about anyone and everyone of whom she can be of some use, whines about feeling guilty, lies a lot and then pretends that her powers have strangely vanished and thus cannot be Evilly Exploited by the Strange and Menacing Government People. For four books. I mean, it's just so hard for her to have to deal with all the pressure of all those people who want her to find missing kids before they're killed. I mean, come on. Can't she just go hang out with her crush or something?
I wanted to hit her with a stick.
2. What drives you most nuts in a villain?
"Pity me for I have been wronged" syndrome.
Creating a sympathetic antagonist does not mean that every bad guy needs to have a murdered wife or an abducted child in his past. Being abused while a child is also getting very, very old. Not to belittle any of the above, but such things do not give you leave to become a murderer, start wars, create general havoc or anything of the kind, nor should you expect me to feel bad for you because of it.
Yes, Hollywood movies, I'm talking to you.
Pettiness comes in a close second, though.
3. What piece of nonfiction has surprised you most by being interesting?
The first thing that came to mind was T.E. Carhart's The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, which, being about pianos, a piano shop and Paris, didn't seem a likely combo to grab my attention, and yet it unfailingly held my interest. But then it did have the whole personal narrative aspect working in its favour -- I can be drawn into a story against my will.
So maybe Mauve by Simon Garfield. It's an entire book about the colour mauve. It was oddly riveting.
4. Have you stopped beating your wife?
5. What factors feature prominently in your ideal road trip?
Ooh, I can make a list! In no particular order: - Really good music. - Good company. Someone to talk to, or who can tell me stories, though I'm perfectly happy with long periods where no one says anything, too. - Time to get lost. Because I will. - Snacks, something to drink, plenty of bathroom opportunities. Stops are good, especially if it gives me the opportunity to eat at little restaurants and diners and the like. - Scenery. Give me something new and interesting to look at. Towns and wilderness are preferred to cities, but if I'm getting cities, then I'd like nice ones, please. No Cincinnatis. (Not meaning offense to the residents of Cincinnati, but let's just say the city left a rather poor impression on me on the drive home from Florida a few years back.) - Nice weather, as applicable for whatever scenery I'm passing through. No crazy storms of any kind while I'm driving. Ice is also frowned upon. - Someone else who is willing and able to drive. I love my friends dearly, but am unwilling to take a road trip when I'm the only one licensed to drive (and/or who has practiced driving in the past twenty years). This is why I'm not driving to Madison this week. - Odd landmarks. I'd rather enjoy taking strange detours to see the world's biggest ball of twine or a particularly lumpy outcropping of rock or a really big pumpkin, even if only to say, "Yep, that's a really big pumpkin."
Feel free to ask me five more and/or be asked questions yourself.
Sarah summarizes our day yesterday here. Thirteen hours in a hospital emergency room. My, oh my.
I have this desperate desire to fix people in pain, to try to help somehow. But when someone's got a ruptured ovarian cyst and serious pain, sometimes all you can do is offer your company and hope that it's enough.
My story "Harbinger," which I wrote for a specific anthology project, was rejected late last week. This did not come as a surprise, seeing as I was more than 4,000 words over the requested word limit; and, in fact, I told the editor that she was going to reject me because of the length even before she'd had an opportunity to read the story. (This is something that you can do when the editor in question is also your writing/critique partner. Whether or not it's a good plan is something I leave open to debate.)
Though I really would have liked to be a part of that anthology (obviously), the rejection itself wasn't a problem. When I decided to stick with "Harbinger" instead of trying to write another story before the deadline, I knew that rejection was the most likely outcome, and yet it took me so very long to find a story idea that fit that particular theme and I liked "Harbinger" so very much. Anyway, it was out in the mail the next day, so not a big deal. (Though we all know what fun it can be trying to market a 9,000 word story.)
This weekend was the craft show in Palgrave, which I've written about in more detail in the Stellar Magpie LiveJournal here. What I didn't say there was that it was bloody cold, both outside and in, and I became that bone-deep sort of cold that I've learned to not even notice in the winter months; but it took me about ten minutes of immersion in very hot water to make me feel warm again. Another lesson: when going to craft shows, dress in layers.
Friday, before the craft show and before the weather turned wet and cold, I went for a long walk with my dad all around Palgrave. We had a great talk, saw the gorgeous fall colours (Caledon -- the big township that encompasses Bolton and Palgrave and a handful of other little places -- is actually one of those spots that people drive to come see in the fall) and took a lot of pictures. Some years I rail against the coming of autumn, and the season that inevitably follows it, but this year ... I had a good summer. It's allowed to be colder for a while. And so long as I'm warm and happy in a good jacket and scarf? It's all good.
Karina Dreams of Totally Unsubstantiated Writerly Theories Or, Yay Beth
My friend, fabulous writer and kick-ass web designer Beth Adele Long has a short story up in Strange Horizons this week, "Rapunzel Dreams of Knives." This is one of my favourite of Beth's stories -- I was lucky to read this one a while back -- and it's even better this time around.
Re-reading Beth's story has reminded me of something I was pondering about Kelly Link's work a while back when I'd just completed her new collection, Magic for Beginners (the title story for which totally blew me away). And also reminds me, in a strange runabout way, about a discussion I had on a panel at this year's Ad Astra. We were discussing "ramping up the tension" in a story (which, not coincidentally, was the name of the panel), and my fellow panelists were discussing at some length the ways to increase reader interest and tension through good plotting techniques.
At one point I chimed in something to the effect of, "But what about the actual writing? The way you write something affects the tension." Which was, sadly, totally misinterpreted as somehow supporting this earlier plotting discussion, despite my best efforts to clarify, and made no lasting impact on the discussion as a whole whatsoever. But it did make me think about the ways that writers increase tension in a story through word choice, sentence structure, and all the other subtle little clues and hints and turns of phrase that wrap a reader ever tighter around a writerly finger.
And when I read Kelly's newest story collection, I realized that she didn't do all these things. Or, at the very least, not to the extent of other writers.
While others so often give the readers clues as to how they're supposed to feel or react to a particular scene, character interaction, event or what-have-you, Kelly Link -- and I think that here I'm using Kelly as the ideal representative of a particular style of writing -- just lays it out there. The writing itself is clever, elegant, graceful the way the wind is graceful, rarely stooping to adornment, and totally without the emotional markers so common to modern storytelling. A disaster is dealt with in exactly the same tone, the same style as a ball of elastics. She does not tell you in any way how to feel, how to react to a particular event or revelation. You have to figure it out for yourself -- the meaning, the purpose, why the twist is twisty and why zombies are connected to Canadians.
This, I think, is what I had so much difficulty coming to comprehend when first reading Kelly's work (which, I think I've said a good dozen times, I hated the first time around), and perhaps other readers find this style a stumbling block as well. Though, who knows, this entire discussion might be totally incomprehensible to anyone but me. Were it an essay -- and I still in a situation to be writing such things for critical review -- I would perhaps get this returned with a notation saying, "An interesting premise poorly developed, requiring great leaps of understanding and comprehension of the inner workings of your brain. Also, the conclusion does not relate to your opening." A valid point.
Stellar Magpie Creations, a.k.a. Two Girls with Pliers, a.k.a. that not-writing thing that's been taking up all my free time, a.k.a. the new jewelry design company that Sarah and I started this September, now has a LiveJournal: stellar_magpie. The LJ is designed to be a place for us to post news, announcements, pictures of new jewelry designs and styles, and general discussion of the adventures of starting our own craft business. The LJ also is a stand-in for our forthcoming website. (Unfortunately, I don't currently have access to a working digital camera, so pictures of all the latest stock and designs will have to wait for another week or so, much to my dismay.)
I'd really, really like to find a way to make this and writing account for at least a significant portion of my income. At the very least, I have to say that I'm far healthier physically when not in an office work environment -- my digestive system hasn't been this good to me in years. So in the next little while I'm going to be looking into a few programs that are designed to help support individuals starting their own businesses.
But, in the mean time, I'm rushing about in a wild flurry of activity because in my "jump in with both feet" attitude at the moment, I recently registered to attend the 18th Annual Macville Craft Show in my hometown of Bolton next Saturday. It was only when the application was submitted and the organizer had replied that table 26 was now reserved for Stellar Magpie that it occurred to me how wildly unprepared I am to attend such an event. (And it will only be me there as Sarah works at the ROM on Saturdays.) Not only do I have to make a ton more stock, but I need to create more displays, design the table setup, tag and inventory all items, make business cards and display labels, find an appropriate tablecloth for a six foot table, buy an ever-growing list of other items (why don't I have a calculator?), and far more. But it's a goal and a deadline, both great motivators.
So my newest anthology story, "Harbinger," is now written, rewritten, edited, revised, polished and submitted. In other words: done.
My prediction that I'd double the word count was a good one; the draft came in at over 10,000 words, and the final version was 9,260 words. Just a wee bit over the requested 5,000 ... but there is no way that I could tell that story properly in fewer words. And I like it, despite the fact that I've now read it so many times that I can barely stand to open the file, never mind look at it. So, that's that.
Deep sigh of relief, cheers all around, and on to the next project: a very short story for Scalzi's SF cliche issue of Subterranean Magazine, and then the novel.