Today I have finished up a guest blog entry on ecofantasy for Charlie Stross, which you can read here.
I have also prepared for tomorrow’s thoroughly fabulous launch of License Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond, by making sure my reading of my Moneypenny story, “Through Your Eyes Only,” comes in under the five minute limit. I’ve booked a Send My Hair to the Sixties appointment at a place called Blo, and now I’ve also reminded you all that if you happen to be in Toronto, you really would be very very welcome to this shindig. (I tell you this even though, according to math, it increases my chances of winning the bespoke suit ChiZine Publications is giving away as a prize if you don’t come.) It’s at the Pravda Vodka House on 44 Wellington Avenue East. If you don’t want a bespoke suit, you can put my name on the raffle ticket.
(Are contributors even entitled to enter the raffle? Do I know? Don’t burst my bubble, okay?)
Earlier today, Iposted critiques for the last round of the Writing the Fantastic workshop at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Next up: revision exercises! (I do still have a few slots open in the winter session of Creating Universes, Building Worlds, by the way). I have worked on a novel called The After People, fetched food from two separate groceries, and written out some questions for the SFContario panel on economics in genre fiction that I’ll be moderating next Saturday.
I made a salad, drank coffee, ate a persimmon before it had a chance to liquefy and contemplated my upcoming Tor.com review of Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe of XKCD fame. Contemplated in this context is indeed a fancy term for “But she didn’t write a single word yet.”
Emails have been answered. Dishes have been washed.
And, since all this virtue and productivity means I am ignoring my young, I have refilled the bird feeder, which is the modern equivalent of slapping the kids down in front of Sesame Street with some Ritz Crackers.
The slice of my life that is all about helping new authors find and hone their voices has been on fire lately, and I have been burning to tell you about all the nifty upcoming developments. Over at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, registration is open for “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” my workshop course in short speculative fiction. This class makes a nice trial run for something like Odyssey, Clarion or Clarion West: you can write in any of the speculative fiction subgenres, and the workshop is run like one of the aforementioned programs (or as close to it as one can get with an online class.) You get to stay home, write one complete work of fiction, workshop it with the group, and make plans for revision and marketing.
Want more? You also get to read and discuss awesome stories by Kij Johnson, Nalo Hopkinson, Harry Turtledove, Tanith Lee and so many other fantastic writers!
But why is that exciting? You may well ask… I’ve been teaching this class for years. But for those of you who’ve taken CUBW and its follow-up, Writing the Fantastic, it does look like there will be a new and more advanced option for you at UCLA come Spring 2016. So that’s one very exciting thing.
The other wildly delightful development is that come January I will be teaching a realtime, face to face, honest-to-deity speculative fiction workshop at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, Ontario. Are there (or do you know) any U of T students who might be interested in that? If so, write me and I will give you the scoop as it develops.
My contributor’s copy of The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth
arrived today, and after about four failed attempts to get a decent picture of myself with the book, I caved to the obvious and shot it with the cat instead. Lorenzo appreciates a good alternate history, I imagine, given that he’s named for a Medici.
(Fanciful? Who, me?)
It’s an honor to be asked to play around with someone else’s universe, and a favor I hope to return to S.M. Stirling one day. I’m so pleased he trusted me with his world, letting me crayon-scrawl the Change all over the part of Northern Alberta that was my childhood stomping ground. I got to cover it with rodeo in-jokes and local history I learned in grade four and never thought to use, and even took a mild swipe at a certain ubiquitous Canadian coffee/donut franchise. It was a thrill to borrow the keys to the character of Huon Liu, whom I’ve always had a bit of a thing for.
Here’s the opening of my story, “Rate of Exchange.”
The totem marking the pass to the Fortress of Solitude was an enormous man with skin the color of cream, clad in blue and red and with a big “S” emblazoned on his chest.
If not for his size, Finch might have believed him real. The blue of his eyes blazed with lively intensity as they bored down into hers, and his cape rippled in the wind in a way that made him seem as athrum with life as any cub or grown adult. His jet-black hair was real–horse, perhaps?–braided in long strands, bound with beads and feathers. The illusion was so perfect she thought she saw him tilt a brow . . . but then her pinto danced sideways and she saw the old man on the platform, putting a finishing lick of red paint on one red boot.
This kickin’ anthology also has stories by Walter Jon Williams, Kier Salmon, Jane Lindskold, John Barnes and of course by the antho editor and creator of the Emberverse, the aforementioned S.M. Stirling. It’ll be available for sale this weekend. Go, buy, and enjoy!
If I squint as May wraps up, I can see it’s been an insanely productive month. I’ve edited several hundred pages of my current novel, while also writing 7,500 words of critique on student work for Novel Writing III
two weeks ago, another 5,500 this week for the same class, and doing a close edit of about 18K words worth of of student manuscripts. I’ve done a whack of coding on the classroom for my next UCLA Extension Writers’ Program
summer course, Creating Universes, Building Worlds
, begun some long-overdue work on my photo archive, pondered, developed and mostly scrapped an idea for a new novel, flirted with poetry and gone to Peterborough for a ChiSeries reading
, David Nickle, and Madeline Ashby. The reading was hosted by the marvelous Derek Newman-Stille
, and my first glimpse of Peterborough only made me want more. It’s nice to be exploring Ontario a bit, now that we’ve been here a couple years and are mostly over the transition.
The surges of student critique–three down, one to go!–tend to leave me cotton-headed for a couple days afterward, full of interesting ideas for about-how-to-write essays I can’t quite manage to compose. Instead, I muddle around like a goldfish throwing itself at the glass of its own bowl, trying to figure out why I can’t finish coherent sentences or complete much in the way of useful work. That’s been my state for a day or so now: trying to do some high-end thinking and finding myself, instead, working up feverish internal rants over how obviously I’m slacking. Intellectually, I know better, but sometimes the internal supervisor just won’t shut up.
A buddy posted about having the exact same problem today, on Facebook, and that helped a bit.
Tomorrow’s battle shall be to take a ridiculously long (43 page) Stormwrack chapter of incredible complexity and edit it into two easily followed not-so-convoluted pieces. To that lofty goal I shall probably add enormously surmountable tasks, like acquiring food, and vacuuming.
Moving on from my previous post about Die Hard, workshop etiquette and providing fictional/film examples, here’s what I’d say about The Imitation Game. This is the problematic stuff, and would come later in the critique than the section where I praised the characterization, the weighty and worthwhile subject matter, and the general structure of the story, which holds together in a decently coherent fashion.
Hi, Graham and Morten,
- Though the story moves from beat to beat in a logical manner, and is effective in achieving the desired emotional effect, it lacks subtlety. The story feels heavy-handed, on the nose, as if the characters are bellowing slogans like, “War is bad!” and “It takes more than guns to win these things!” and “Look at this amazing maladjusted smart guy and all the people he saved!” and “Wow, isn’t it horrific and amazing that every day he and his band didn’t solve the problem, all sorts of people died?” I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it’s fundamentally clunky.
- The details of your chosen historical period and the military/intelligence community are for the most part accurately rendered, but you have chosen to simplify the chain of command by making Turing and his guys seem responsible for an enormous swath of military action, including calling or cancelling bombing raids. I understand why simplifying is often a good choice, but it’s less interesting, in this case, than if you tried to hint at the complexity.
- Turing’s male sidekicks are somewhat slenderly characterized. They blend together in my mind, forming something of a multi-headed bully when they’re not on his side and a multi-headed cheerleader when they are. The only one who stands out at all is the fellow with a brother in the Navy. That’s less about characterization and more about the story attached to him.
- I’m not sure what I think of you showing us apple and cyanide during the story, foreshadowing the manner of Turing’s death, without explicitly saying that he poisoned himself. Apples have both Biblical and fairy-tale freight, and I wonder if you couldn’t do something more with this.
All of the above is clear and yet it’s respectfully worded. It’s not so “nice” that the intent is lost, but it doesn’t try to snark, show off my huge brain, or score points.
It would be easy to push that line, especially with the first item. I could simply add a touch of sarcasm to the sentences I use to illustrate the story’s various points. (Even if I tool the last one up slightly “Gee willikers, do you all get that every day Turing and his plucky band didn’t solve the problem, all sorts of people died?” the tone changes.)
The exercise here, if you missed the previous post, is to critique a movie that many people will have seen, as if it were actually a novel or short story submitted to one of my classes. It’s a chance to practice critique. And to get to say, “Dear Francis Ford Coppola, about this thingie you’ve written…” Which is just, I hope, fun.
Next in this series, we will discuss my deep and abiding hatred of the most recent X-Men movie.
I am thinking about dialog today. It’s a topic I’ve covered to some extent in my Yakkity Yak essay, but I’m wondering if there couldn’t be a way to construct some bare-bones exercises to teach beginners some of the basics of improving it.
A starting point, I think, would be to actually have dialog as opposed to implying it. So I might preamble with:
Though there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong ways to do anything in fiction-writing, it’s sometimes useful to pretend this isn’t the case. This is because some techniques generally work better than others; some strategies should be employed sparingly, rather than as a matter of habit.
With that in mind, let’s attach the label “Less Effective” to this:
Hans & Greta debated knocking on Mrs. Witch’s front door.
And this one we’ll call “More effective.”
“Should we knock?” Hans asked when they reached Mrs. Witch’s door.
Greta shook her head. “If we warn her, she’ll call the police for sure.”
Part one of the exercise would then be to supply three more less Effective sentences:
Pinnochio lied about breaking curfew, but of course his nose grew and Papa grounded him for a month.
Snow White tried to refuse the apple politely.
Mr. Straw Pig indicated he would very much prefer not to allow Wolf past his threshold, unless of course he had a warrant.
Part two would be for the writer to find and edit some examples from their own work, and part three would be analysis: did this improve your writing? How?
What do you think? Potentially useful?