Rachel

Scene Orientation

From Writer Unboxed, this: The Three W’s of Scene Orientation

That’s a very intriguing title for a post. I think this is a place where workshop entries tend to fail — they begin the book and at once the reader is seriously confused, because of a lack of orientation to the scene.

I think that’s probably what this article has in mind. Let me see …

I suspect we all know people who will walk in a room and say something like, “I still can’t believe she’d quit on me.” … It’s obvious there is conflict, so this might end up being a good story, but right now the comment is floating in space. I’ll need more words to understand it. Who is this woman? Where did he see her? When did this happen—ten minutes ago? Is he still chewing on something from his youth? Or is this a future action that worries him? …

…. But judging from the manuscripts I see, it can also be what happens when you are on your umpteenth draft of a novel and can no longer remember which version of which facts are on the page. 

OH YES. THAT.

That is so true! I’m laughing here, because this isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it absolutely happens and it’s difficult to spot. If you’ve done a beta read for me, you may well have spotted this exact problem. Wow, it is just so easy to delete one line of dialogue or one paragraph of backstory and suddenly some thread is left dangling somewhere else.

Anyway, it’s a fine article, with good development of this problem of lacking or losing context from scenes and how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Here’s another topic of this post:

If you’re relying upon tags at the top of the chapter to do this work for you, I can vouch for the fact that this alone can backfire.

Let’s say Chapter Five is tagged “November, 1985.” Thus begins a parlor game that I rarely win. What month/year was it in the last chapter, and why didn’t I memorize it? 

Yes, yes! And it’s not just time tags! If you title the chapter with the name of the pov protagonist, for some reason I have trouble noticing that, and three paragraphs down I’m thinking, Wait, who is this and flipping back to see what pov we’re supposed to be in. I know, that’s just me. Except it’s probably not JUST me. It’s really handy to do something to clarify the pov in the first paragraph of each chapter, EVEN IF you tag the chapter in a heading.

Good article overall, well worth a look.

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Progress report: Lots of progress, Whew, it’s about time.

The puppies are slowing the writing down, admittedly, partly because of the work involved with raising a litter, but also partly because they are intrinsically cute and distracting. But! They are also progressing by leaps and bounds, so that’s excellent. Every single puppy is now eating real food out of a dish. Not the kind of food I actually want them to eat, not a long-term food, but it’s food and it’s good for them and getting them to this point was such a struggle that I don’t care about anything beyond that.

They’re eating Royal Canin Starter, by the way. All of them. One hundred percent of puppies surveyed insist that soaked kibble will not do, whether or not you add chicken baby food. I now have five jars of chicken baby food that I guess I will find a use for someday, but evidently this is not that day. They are actually interested in dry kibble, but even broken up, they can’t eat that yet. Their jaw strength is inadequate, I guess, as they certainly have teeth. Sharp teeth.

Anyway: last night for the very first time I did not have to get up at 1:00 AM to make Morgan nurse them, so she and I are both relieved about that. Especially me.

I have also introduced the puppies to the outdoor world!

Tri Boy, Dora in the background.
Tri Girl Two, Tri Girl One in the background
B/T boy, pouncing at me
Ruby girl, pretending to be pensive, but actually about to join in the pouncing.

Going outside means three trips down the steps for me, not to mention three trips back up. Four or five times a day, as I am now actively engaged in the very earliest stages of housetraining; eg, taking them out at strategic moments so that they will develop a preference for doing their business outside. Which they do prefer. Puppies always prefer that if they are allowed to develop their instinct to be clean.

Anyway, they most certainly can’t be out unsupervised. Way too many dangers out there, including hawks. I actually know of a local incident where a hawk picked up a Yorkie and carried it up into a tree before dropping it. The dog survived, but was badly injured — I got this story from my vet, who treated the dog, so I know it really happened. These puppies are all around three pounds — 2 lbs 13.75 oz to 3 lbs 3.5 oz as of this morning — which is smaller than most Yorkies and in fact smaller than a lot of rabbits.

Luckily, I have a reliable babysitter:

That is Naamah, who will not leave puppies alone outside. That’s Tri Girl One climbing on her and … um … I think … yes, Tri Girl Two in the foreground. Anyway, I have an x-pen, so I carry the puppies down and put them in the x-pen with Naamah until they’re all down in the yard. Then I open the x-pen and let them wander about, with Naamah as a major playmate and the other dogs ambling about.

All the puppies are brave about exploring and all of them toddle right to a person and climb in their lap. If I were going to hazard a guess, I’d say Tri Girl One is going to be Little Miss Independent, while Tri Boy is likely to be a lap dog and very affectionate. B/T Boy is spunky. Tri Girl Two and Ruby Girl might turn out to be calm and sweet, but on the other hand, maybe not that calm! All of them will benefit from having more visitors this week and then gently going places next week.

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Recent Reading: The Book of Firsts by “Karan K Anders”

Okay, just to make sure we’re all caught up, “Karan K Anders” is actually Andrea K Höst. I know a lot of you already know that, but just to make sure.

So. The Book of Firsts is a departure for Höst. It’s a contemporary … romance. Almost romance. Sort-of romance. Near romance. Anyway, a contemporary novel that is at least romance-adjacent, with a lot of sex scenes. You can see why she might have decided to go with a pen name for a book that’s so different from her other works … although as far as that goes, she does have a rather wide range, doesn’t she? And All the Stars isn’t much like the Medair duology, for example. Except in terms of certain themes and some ways of developing the characters and pulling off occasional shocking plot twists.

Anyway! The Book of Firsts.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Three boys, the ‘kings’ of the school. One cynical newcomer. An outrageous competition.
When Mika Niles overhears the details of “The Book of Firsts” she’s at first bemused, then scornful, then intrigued. Judging which of three very handsome young men is best at kissing, and…?
With no time in her final year for serious attachments, a series of lunchtime trysts is more than tempting – and an opportunity like this might never come her way again. But this light-hearted game is also a scandalous secret, and few can play with fire and walk away unscathed.

I wouldn’t have been interested if this book had been written by someone else, but first, AKH, and second, reviews suggested that some things about the story would probably appeal to me. That impression turned out to be a little misleading. Practically everything about the story appealed to me. Let me count the ways:

1. First, just to get this out of the way, the sex scenes aren’t too detailed, and in fact become less and less explicit as the story progresses. If a reader is really into the hot, steamy erotica of modern romances, they’d probably be disappointed. For me, lowering the steam quotient of the story was of course a plus. I didn’t skip or skim even a single scene. Good thing too, as the setup required a LOT of sex scenes throughout the story.

2. Second, although reviews and AKH herself refer to this books a “lighthearted” and “fluffy,” it’s not really all that light. The setup is intrinsically unlikely, sure, but Höst makes it (reasonably) believable. More important, there’s actually considerable emotional heft to the story. But this doesn’t come from the romance elements. Mika, the female lead and the sole pov protagonist, is a very (very) emotionally self-contained person and not at all given to any kind of angst. The relationship between Mika and the male leads is not the heart of the story, even though Mika drives a lot of the plot.

3. The above is probably one reason I’m having trouble categorizing this book as a romance, straight up. I’ve gone back and forth in whether I would call this book a romance. The story does follow some romance tropes. But the relationship at the heart of the story is definitely not the romance, it’s the friendship between the three male leads – Rin, Kyou, and Bran – who are indeed, as all the reviews indicate, complicated and well-developed characters. This friendship, incidentally, never once falters. This is not that kind of story.

Also, imo, the growing friendship between the three male leads and Mika is much more emotionally important than any romantic connection between them. In fact, you could plausibly define their relationship as friends with benefits and not actually romance. Any way you look at it, this is a friendship-centered story, not a romance-centered story. So I think I finally come down on the side of not-quite-a-romance.

I know some of you have read this story. Agree/disagree on this point?

Anyway:

4. There is not the slightest doubt that everything will work out. The good guys will be fine. The bad guys will get slapped down. In fact, this is a story that proceeds in rhyming couplets: AB AB AB:

A) A problem occurs.

B) The problem is quickly solved in a satisfactory way.

A) Another problem occurs.

B) This problem is also solved satisfactorily in short order.

A) A third problem occurs …

And so on. There is one problem that extends through a large portion of the book – who has it in for the male leads and why? – but as a rule, specific problems are solved in a brisk fashion rather than pushing the reader into extended tension. This is great! I mean, sure, it depends on your mood and what you want in a story. But I read this book when I was somewhat stressed and trying to pull out of an ongoing bad mood, and I can’t tell you how much The Book of Firsts improved my day. It was just so satisfying watching things work out over and over. Granted, Mika is likely to seem overly competent and emotionally controlled to some readers, but she was just what I wanted. So were the three male leads, for that matter. I get what people mean about the lack of edges or the overmaturity of the characters. I did think of them as young men and women, not boys and girls. They do think and act in very mature ways. But this totally worked for me.

5) Also, this goes without saying, probably, but Höst is just such a good writer in almost every way. Smooth, witty, with an occasional unexpected emotional punch. Probably a decade ago I said firmly that I was dead tired of male leads who were gorgeous AND rich AND brilliant, and yet here we are, because this story worked fine for me even though it has THREE male leads fitting this description.

I’m really glad this is book one of a series. That gives AKH three ongoing series, and I hardly know which sequel I’d like to see most. Also, I’d always take yet another story set in the Touchstone universe. In fact, out of curiosity, please vote:

1. The sequel to Pyramids of London.

2. The sequel to Starfighter Invitation.

3. The sequel to The Book of Firsts.

4. Something in the Touchstone world, maybe going on from “Snow Day.”

I think … I think, if I could pick one to come out tomorrow, it might be (2). But maybe not! I’m really looking forward to the epic family meltdown that is no doubt scheduled for the sequel to The Book of Firsts. I wouldn’t like that it if turned into an angst-fest, but seen through Mika’s eyes, with Rin and Kyou prepared to coolly face down the drama, I will love it. As for “Snow Day,” I dislike Kaoren’s brother Arlen. But maybe AKH can change my mind, and anyway, I like the new characters from the short story and would enjoy seeing more of them. In contrast to the above, I have no idea what the sequel to Pyramids will involve, so it’s hard to anticipate it in the same way.

Okay! I have the Shinn story collection here, but before I look at that, I think I’ll re-read The Book of Firsts.

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Bookish crimes

From Crime Reads: SEVEN MYSTERY NOVELS WHERE THE CRIMES ARE MOTIVATED BY BOOKS

I am a passionate bibliophile myself….This avocation is what inspired me to create the Bibliophile Mysteries, featuring a bookbinder who solves murders linked to the rare books in her care. So you might legitimately call me a book fanatic. But I’m not as far gone as book collectors who feel obsessed to possess. Those for whom a particular treasure may inspire them to felonious deeds.

And then, as advertised, seven murder mysteries featuring book-centered crimes. These mysteries mostly look like cozies, but a couple don’t seem to fit that subgenre. All of them sound intriguing. I like the book chosen as the centerpiece for this mystery:

A Page Marked for Murder by Lauren Elliott

As the charming coastal town of Greyborne Harbor is gearing up for their annual Fire and Ice Festival, Addie Greyborne’s friend Gloria suffers a fall that sends her to the hospital. While at Gloria’s house to care for her dog, Addie notices a rare and valuable first edition of The Secret Garden. But on her next visit, the book is missing, which makes her wonder if Gloria’s fall wasn’t an accident at all—and whether it’s linked to the dead body found behind the bakery. The owner of the bakery is charged with the crime, but Addie is convinced that the police have the wrong person in custody. And so of course, as amateur sleuths do, she’ll have to track down the killer herself. What I love best about the Beyond the Page Bookstore Mysteries are the complex and appealing characters. I’d love to join them at the local café for a cup of coffee and a hot dish of gossip.

The mysteries in the linked post feature things like a first edition of Jekyll and Hyde or the first-ever-written Sherlock Holmes story or whatever, and those are fine, but I have to admit, I loved The Secret Garden and am drawn at once toward this book, just because it mentions that one.

Although the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett I loved the most was, hands down, A Little Princess.

Googling now, I find that Burnett wrote an awful lot of books, including many I’ve never heard of, much less read. This one, a fairy tale, is available for free from Amazon. Every book description of Burnett’s books makes the stories sound so twee and sentimental. And in some ways, I guess they are sentimental, and yet so very charming. If any of you have read any of her books other than A Little Princess or The Secret Garden, which, and what did you think?

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Story collection by sharon shinn

Okay, so, this was released in April, but I missed it. I knew it was coming out, but I forgot exactly when. Well, here it is:

Very Gothic cover!

A writer who would rather live with ghosts than face her troubled marriage. A woman who receives calls over her cell phone from people who have recently died. A man who suddenly finds strange objects appearing in his life—and just as suddenly disappearing.

These characters and more fill the pages of Sharon Shinn’s collection of seven short stories. Romance, mystery, and a little bit of magic follow each of them as they grapple with the past so they can move forward into the future.

Chief Executed Officers is never before published. The other six stories have appeared previously in anthologies published 2004 through 2012.

I’m guessing the cover goes with the writer who would rather live with ghosts. That sounds like it could be quite Gothic in tone. Now, as you see, six of the stories have appeared elsewhere. However, I think every one of them is new to me. Here are the titles:

  1. The Sorcerer’s Assassin
  2. In the House of Seven Spirits
  3. Chief Executed Officers
  4. The Unrhymed Couplets of the Universe — what a great title!
  5. Can You Hear Me Now?
  6. The Double-Edged Sword
  7. Wintermoon Wish

None of those sound familiar to me. Very nice to have them collected now for those of us who missed out on them in previous anthologies. I know lots of you are also Sharon Shinn fans, so perhaps you’ll like this collection.

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Five weeks and two days, but who’s counting?

I’m counting the days because every. single. puppy. is willing to either eat Royal Canin Starter (good) or at least lick chicken baby food off my finger (not as good, but it’s a start). I want them all eating kibble, softened if necessary, though those vicious little teeth are starting to suggest that they should be able to handle dry kibble pretty soon. I want this because at the moment they aren’t eating enough to really keep them going, so I still have to get up at one in the morning and take Morgan upstairs and supervise her while the puppies nurse. Have I mentioned I get up at four thirty in the morning as just a standard part of my schedule?

I will say, a couple broken nights usually suffices for me to train myself to go back to sleep promptly.

Well, another week … surely not much more … should see major gains in weaning and hopefully unbroken nights for Morgan and for me.

Meanwhile!

I think this picture is so funny! The puppies are venturing out of the puppy room. Every single puppy appears to be nicely confident and ready to explore. Keeping track of five is quite a trick, incidentally. Here we see the ruby girl and her almost entirely invisible black-and-tan brother, revealed mainly by the shadow of his tail, exploring about five feet from the puppy room gate. They didn’t stop here, either. The ruby found the open crate that really more or less belongs to Leda, though different dogs like to go in there sometimes, and in she went. The black-and-tan turned the other way and toddled into the living room, suddenly wondered if he’d gotten farther than he wanted to be, and was quickly rescued and restored to the puppy room before he could worry about being lost.

Meanwhile, after explorations are over for the moment, the puppies all still nap very thoroughly.

Meanwhile! On the way to work this morning, I suddenly realized how Dimilioc is going to solve the central problem of witches and black witchcraft, in a really great visual scene at the end of Silver Circle. It was one of those OF COURSE moments that is so helpful. I paused before turning onto the highway to scribble a quick note, though I doubt I’ll forget.

No doubt everyone will have some difficulty getting to that point. I don’t know yet what exact obstacles they will have to overcome to get there. But I do clearly know where they’re going. Also, I’m certain Justin will be important, which means Keziah will probably be moving more toward center stage as well. I know that will please some of you. Honestly, the cast of characters is so big by now it’s just a real challenge.

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Worldbuilding: building a word to believe in

Here’s an interesting post at Book View Cafe by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff: New Writers Ask: What goes into building a world?

I had a ghostwriting client for an epic historical fantasy who insisted that the opening chapter of his novel be dedicated to the arrival of a main character at a seaport and his subsequent trek to the regional capital by caravan. This, in itself, was problematic as it took pages for the story to actually get started. … But even a leisurely intro can be interesting to read if the details on the page paint a vivid picture and illuminate the world. 

Okay, isn’t that interesting? Maybe it’s just me, but I find the whole phenomenon of ghostwriting really intriguing, from both the pov of the person who hires the writer and the pov of the person who does the ghostwriting. It’s one of those things that’s hard to quite wrap my mind around, which is why it’s interesting. Bohnhoff’s posts on this subject are good at explaining some of what goes into ghostwriting.

Of course I also agree that a leisurely intro could be fine. I mean, it depends, but I wouldn’t as a rule object to beginning a story with a caravan journey, thus letting the author “paint a vivid picture and illuminate the world.” That basically sounds like something that would work for me. Mind you, I would sort of expect a certain amount of adventure during the caravan journey. Bandits! Sandstorms! Djinn! All three! But just seeing the world would be a benefit of opening with a journey.

But Bohnhoff continues:

He objected that this was not the way he envisioned the [seaport] at all. In his mind, the port—we’ll call it Wedebi—was basically a bunch of tents on a sandy beach inhabited by anonymous characters needed to unload the ship. There were no docks or wharves; the goods had to be taken from the vessels by small boats and carried perilously to shore.

And this takes us to the worldbuilding part. This is a longish post that goes into detail about building a port town in a sensible way, a town that could plausibly exist.

The post ends with a bunch of questions of the kind I never actually ask myself …

  • How old is this location?
  • Why does it exist and how did it get here? (Bonus points if you describe how it was founded and by whom.)
  • How populous is it?
  • Who lives here and where do they live?
  • What do they eat and where to they get what they eat?
  • Is it a sea or river port? 
  • Is it supported by a farming community that it supports in return? 
  • Is it a regional capital, financial capital, trade center, religious locus?
  • How does trade work here? Is there money or only barter or both? 

Because as far as I’m concerned, these questions, while excellent, are the sort that are generally answered in the back of the mind, drawing on a lifetime of paying reasonable attention to the world and/or reading nonfiction or well–researched historical novels …

… except that I do pay more attention these days to saying, “Oh, look at these wide, rolling fields of grain around this city” or whatever, because somehow I seem to have seen a lot of comments lately about fantasy cities that ought to be starving. I think for some readers, cities without agriculture are starting to fall into the same painful category as horses that gallop for hours without dropping dead. No one wants that. So my characters tend to look at fields of waving grain now and then.

Good post, though. Click through if you have a moment.

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Progress report: finally moving forward again

Wow, it was a serious pain in the neck getting really started on something — anything — after June 15th, when I finally sent No Foreign Sky back to my agent.

Those puppies were (and are) taking up a certain amount of my time, and by “a certain amount,” I mean “a lot.” Also, getting up at 1:00 AM every night to make Morgan nurse her puppies was causing me to take a lot of naps in the afternoon, which is the low-energy period of the day for me anyway. This is true even though the puppies nurse in like five minutes flat. Maybe ten max. Very different from nursing all the time when they were newborns.

Anyway, stuff I have been working on, a little: Tasmakat. Since stuff in the Tuyo world is easier for me to work on than anything else, that’s what I worked on. Even that was slow. (For stuff in this world, very slow.) However, I now have chapters one, two, and probably five written. Chapter five was fun to write; that’s why I wrote it out of order.

I also have been poking at a story from Thaddeus’ pov for the next Black Dog collection. I know in broad terms what ought to happen in that story, and for various reasons I think it would be good to write that story, but I then set it aside in the hope that specific scenes will just occur to me one of these days. Preferably in the next month or so.

Instead, last night, a different story for this collection started to work itself out in my head. It is the first (and will be the only) story told from Grayson’s point of view. I can’t tell you much about it. Almost all of the events in this story depend on the events in a different story in the same collection. So I can say, “Grayson and Martya deal with the poroniec demon,” but that is obviously meaningless to you at this time. I can say, this will be the last story in the collection. I think it obviously makes sense to leave a Grayson pov story till the end.

It was nice to start moving forward with something I think I can finish in a week or two … or three, considering the puppies are only going to get cuter for some time yet … anyway, with luck this will be a fairly quick story to write. I’ll be aiming for sixty to eighty pages, which is about the length I prefer.

Placing all five puppies in new homes would clear the distraction out of my home. Morgan sure wouldn’t mind, as far as I can tell. However, I have to say, these tricolor girl puppies are very, very appealing. I’m really positive they are going to have pretty heads. I especially like Tricolor Girl One.

Also, Naamah has become extremely focused on playing with puppies, since no other dog in the household is remotely as playful as she is. Morgan used to be and may be again, but not right now. So Naamah has taught herself to play very gently with the infants. She is quite safe to leave with them while I go on about other things. But she is dying to play tag and wrestle. She flings herself energetically onto her back to try to get them to jump on her, but they are still at the pounce-and-fall-over stage. But, what I’m saying is, plainly it would be kinder to Naamah to keep a puppy …

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