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Paleoartists

I hadn’t been aware that there are wildlife artists who specialize in depicting extinct fauna. Here’s a Quora answer that was eye-opening: Who is the greatest artist depicting extinct animals?

First, Mauricio Antón. He lives in Spain, and has the distinction of knowing more about sabertooth cats than perhaps anyone else in human history – I have several of his books on this topic alone.

The painting of the herd of Baluchitheriums is my favorite of the ones shown in this answer. You should click over to the answer and take a look.

Here’s Mauricio Antón’s website. The link goes to one of his galleries, but if you have a minute, poke around on the site. I notice on his publications page that I have one of the books he illustrated: Dogs, their Fossil Relatives and Evolutionary History. Xiaoming Wang, Richard Tedford and Mauricio Antón. Columbia University Press, 2008. The illustrations are indeed very good, from the skeletons on up to the animals set into their ecosystems. The cover of the book shows my least favorite image from the whole book. Here is an illustration I like a lot better:

These were not canids, but the image shows the type of illustration in this book. There are lots of side-by-side comparisons of different species.

Here’s Antón’s paleoart Twitter account, if you’re on Twitter and want to follow him.

The second artist covered in the Quora answer:

Secondly, Mark Witton. He’s one of the most well-known modern paleontologists, being especially famous for his research on pterosaurs. He also published The Paleoartist’s Handbook in 2018, which might well be the most comprehensive book on accurately reconstructing prehistoric life.All his paintings have an unmistakable atmosphere – gritty, but somehow surreal. You’d know they were his from a mile away, with that unique art style. His more speculative depictions are really interesting, too.

A lot of these images are filled with life and motion. He’s got a Twitter account too, here. He also has a blog, here. A recent entry: Dinosaur fossils and Chinese dragons: ancient association or modern wishful thinking?

Isn’t that a great, intriguing title for a post? Don’t you want to click through and read that?

Geomythology is a discipline that most of us are familiar with even if we’ve not heard of this term: the study of possible associations between real geological phenomena and myths and legends. The idea that certain fossils were somehow involved in the creation or development of mythical creatures is a subject we’ve discussed several times at this blog, including the purported fossil associations of griffinscyclopes, giants and unicorns. Although proverbial kernels of truth underlie some of these proposals, many examples – including famous claims about Protoceratops and griffins, and elephant skulls and cyclopes, are actually nowhere near as well-supported as their popularity implies. A lot of geomythological hypotheses persist primarily because of uncritical retellings and a lack of skeptical examination.

Neat stuff.

Okay, the last artist from the Quora answer:

Last but not least, Peter Schouten. 

I became familiar with his work after buying a book on the end-Pleistocene extinction, which he illustrated. He is Australian, and in addition to painting a lot of living wildlife, he has a lot of artwork depicting the fauna of the Pleistocene epoch.

His website is here. I love the megafauna page.

Lots of wonderful artwork at this answer and the many linked sites. I hope you have a few minutes to enjoy all this.

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3/4 Finished, sort of!

Okay, so as you know I’ve been writing Black Dog stories this year, in between doing other things such as supervising puppies —

— and unexpectedly pausing to write Keraunani and so on.

However, I have been making some progress on the Black Dog stories too. The good news is that this morning I finished the rough draft of the third novella for the upcoming collection. The less-great news is that it’s a pretty rough draft AND it lacks an ending, so “finished” is a pretty strong term.

Endings can be difficult. I’m just not sure how to tie this story up. Two basic choices:

a) Write a couple paragraphs that end the story.

b) Add another couple of scenes and THEN write a couple paragraphs that end the story.

I think I’m going to set this aside for a bit and move on to the 4th story for the collection. I’ll come back and look at the 3rd later, after the back of my brain has had a chance to sort things out.

So far, I have (in the order I wrote them, not the order they’ll be presented):

1) A story from Ethan’s pov that involves those Russian black dogs we met briefly in his previous story. I wrote this one last year or maybe the year before, I forget, but a while anyway. It’s therefore polished up nicely at this point. I think it occurs substantially after Copper Mountain, but definitely before Silver Circle.

I’m really surprised at how Ethan’s character has developed over time. This, I guess, is what people mean when they talk about characters with ideas of their own.

2) A story from Tommy’s pov that involves the younger set of Dimilioc black dogs — Keziah’s sister Amira and Carissa’s brother Nick. They’re going to make quite a team eventually. I’m pretty happy with this story and I think it’s in good shape, close to the final draft.

3) A story from Keziah’s pov that involves the skull that had the demon in it. Remember that? Loose threads there. I picked some of those threads up and added certain other loose threads that used to be unrelated and started to set up certain things for Silver Circle. This story is in pretty rough shape right now. It takes place well before the two above, and would probably be placed first in the collection.

4) Some of the things that happen in Tommy’s story above imply a story that took place off-stage from Thaddeus’ point of view. I don’t know what takes place in that story, so here we are, with the vaguest possible idea and yet I would like to figure something out and write it.

5) A partial story from Grayson’s pov. That one was not working properly and I paused it. I will pick it back up and look at it this week and we’ll just see. It’s strange, because I know the basic things that ought to happen in this story and in fact I need those things to happen in order to set up Silver Circle, yet the story still stalled out. I’m not sure how to cut out most of the beginning scenes and get to the part that’s important, but that’s what I will be thinking about doing. This one ought to be placed late in the collection, preferably last.

So that’s where I am.

At this point, I should probably add, I’m not at all sure this collection will be ready to release by Halloween. (Sorry! I wrote Keraunani!) But, barring unforeseen writing weirdness, it should be ready to release this year, at least.

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Three Legs of the stool

At Pub Rants, this: Premise, Plot, Prose: What Happens When One Is Missing?

A few years ago, I presented at the monthly meeting of a writing organization that wanted to know more about what agents are (and aren’t) looking for when they read submissions. I ended up talking about how premise, plot, and prose make a three-legged stool, and how when one leg is missing, the stool falls over—and the submission is likely to get a rejection. I’ve always wanted to expand on that idea for a more general fiction-writing audience. So this month, that’s what I decided to do.

Plot and Prose seem sensible choices, but what does “Premise” mean here? I guess it means “concept,” as in “high concept” — for example: a Western, but set in space! With plenty of Chinese influence! — something like that. But I’m not sure why that seems as important to the author of this post as Plot and Prose. Maybe because the concept is important as a selling point when pitching the book to acquiring editors.

“P” words aside, I’d say the three legs ought to be Character, Plot, and Prose — Or there should be four legs and you should have a chair, not a stool: Character, Setting, Plot, and Prose. But sure, let’s take the Premise, Plot, Prose thing for now and see what this post says about each.

+Premise +Plot -Prose

A manuscript that falls into this category promises a cool, unique premise, hook, or concept, and it’s well structured, moving along at a good, genre-appropriate clip…or at least it appears to be at first. Agents aren’t going to make it very far into this manuscript because the prose itself is a problem.

When I say prose here, I’m talking about two things. I’m talking about craft: spelling, grammar, semantics, syntax, mechanics, punctuation, etc. I’m also talking about art: voice, style, rhythm, imagery, symbolism, use of poetic devices, and so on.

Not so much Premise, Plot, and Prose as Premise, Pace, and Prose. But sure.

Substitute “reader” for “agent” and this is probably less true, for some readers. We can all think of novels that are a bit, or more than a bit, lacking in the prose department, with plenty of clunky, awkward sentences. But they’re still successful novels. I can enjoy a novel like that myself, as long as the dialogue is good. (That surprised me a lot when I realized it.)

I’ll tolerate a (small) number of errors if the writing is otherwise good. It does annoy me when an otherwise skilled author makes lay/lie errors, or may/might errors, or whatever. But again, I’ll tolerate that. If the writing, especially the dialogue, is frankly boring, that’s a real turn-of for me, more so than a small handful of mistakes.

Next:

+Premise -Plot +Prose

This manuscript is built on a mind-blowing, never-been-seen-before idea, and the prose is gorgeous, but there’s no plot. No sequence of events leading one into the other in a logical, plausible way that builds suspense, raises stakes, and keeps readers turning pages. No cliffhangers, turning points, or reversals. No artfully planted clues that give the reader a fair shake. No satisfying sense of wholeness or completeness. No connections between the first half of the manuscript and the second.

I wouldn’t go quite that far. I mean, you could have some aspects of the plot be fine and still have the plot fundamentally fail because events don’t lead into one into the next. Having everything else be good, except the author gets her characters backed into a corner and then whips out egregious deus ex machina from nowhere to rescue them, and that alone will still ruin the book for a lot of readers.

Still, basically the above is a good list of ways the plot can fail.

-Premise +Plot +Prose

This manuscript is well written with an airtight plot, but it feels bland. Derivative. Predictable. A little too tropey. Like it rolled off the assembly line into a bin marked “Stories We’ve All Seen Before.”

Of all three types of manuscripts in this article, this one is most likely to get represented and published. It’s a “good” book, a “competent” book. That makes it a safe bet for a lot of agents and editors. …

Well, that does not really seem entirely fair as a criticism. To take one obvious reason why Premise cannot be as important as Plot or Prose, fresh, new, and exciting for a fourteen-year-old reader is not the same thing as fresh, new, and exciting for an agent or editor or any other person who’s read a zillion books in whatever genre. One reason that seemingly derivative and predictable books succeed is that readers naïve in the genre don’t find them either derivative or predictable. There are always more readers coming along.

Of course, a great concept is a fine thing. But high concept is more a selling point than an aspect of quality. No, I still say: Character, setting, plot, prose. This isn’t as alliterative, but it’s a more correct list of the qualities that need to line up in order to make a good novel.

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would you turn the page?

This is an interesting feature at Writer Unboxed: Would You Pay to Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for August 22, 2021. How strong is the opening page—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Isn’t that interesting? Don’t you want to read the page?

Here’s the first paragraph:

Billy Summers sits in the hotel lobby, waiting for his ride. It’s Friday noon. Although he’s reading a digest-sized comic book called Archie’s Pals ’n’ Gals, he’s thinking about Émile Zola, and Zola’s third novel, his breakthrough, Thérèse Raquin. He’s thinking it’s very much a young man’s book. He’s thinking that Zola was just beginning to mine what would turn out to be a deep and fabulous vein of ore. He’s thinking that Zola was— is— the nightmare version of Charles Dickens. He’s thinking that would make a good thesis for an essay. Not that he’s ever written one.

The entire first page is at the link — plus a poll: Would you turn the page or wouldn’t you?

Having read the whole first page: I would not. I dislike present tense. An author can make me like a novel written in present tense, but the author is pushing uphill to make that work for me. This does not get me over that hill. There is a nice line here — a nightmare version of Charles Dickens — but that is the only thing I like about the opening page.

Does anyone recognize this? I did not. I assumed this would be a literary work. It isn’t. You will absolutely for sure recognize the author’s name. Click through, answer the poll question, and see if you’re surprised by the author. I was.

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Writers as Protagonists: They’re everywhere

I saw this on Twitter yesterday:


Gwenda Bond  @Gwenda
Riddle me this, Twitter — best scary/horror books that feature a writer as main character? (We’ve decided to do only novels featuring writers for book club because endless genres! We already put Misery on the shortlist.)

I’m not super keen on horror, though I do read SOME horror. I hated Misery. But of course, with a tweet like that, at once you think of the zillions of non-horror books with protagonists who are writers. Right?

I know there ARE zillions. There must be. But in fact I am having trouble thinking of examples.

a) Jo in Little Women.

b) Cath in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

c) Harriet in Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter mysteries

Look at that! I’m already drawing a blank. This is ridiculous.

On the plus side, I can think of worse choices for a book club than Little Women, Fangirl, and Gaudy Night. Wouldn’t that be a fun selection? So extraordinarily different in so many ways. On the minus side, the only other books that spring to mind are in fact Stephen King novels.

What are some other titles in which the protagonist is a writer?

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Hunting the Horny Backed Toad

Here’s an interesting post at Kill Zone Blog, in which the author of the post, Garry Rodgers analyzes the lyrics of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

Here’s the chorus:

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can’t plant me in your penthouse
I’m going back to my plough

Back to the howling old owl in the woods
Hunting the horny back toad
Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies
Beyond the yellow brick road

And here’s the post:

I asked Rita, “What do you think the significance of hunting the horny back toad is?”

Oddly, I never wondered that. Unlike the Rodgers, I know what a horned toad is: it’s a lizard, so more properly called a horned lizard, in the genus Phrynosoma. It’s found in the American Southwest. When upset, it can produce a secretion of blood from its eyes. They can squirt the blood some distance. I’m not sure why that is helpful. It’s assumed it startles predators. I am not sure this seems plausible to me. I guess I’d believe it if I saw a horned toad scare off a bobcat that way, but offhand it doesn’t seem likely that tiny jets of blood would bother a bobcat. Or certainly a coyote. Particularly not if the coyote is hungry. But who knows?

Anyway, back to the song. That is an odd line. The desert habitat of the horned toad is not known for woodlands with owls. It’s a desert.

My suspicion deepened that the horny back toad must be some kind of metaphor or simile or symbol described through figurative language.

Yes, that seems pretty likely!

The rest of the post is a fairly deep dive into figurative language:

But I wasn’t that familiar with was figurative language sub-categories, and it kept me hunting for the toad in the rabbit hole. I leaned there’s a big world out there in semantic stuff that supports figurative language…

I like the word Metonymy — substituting a name to shift focus. I wasn’t familiar with that one.

Rodgers eventually reaches this conclusion:

What if Bernie Taupin simply had writer’s block and struggled with something to rhyme with “road” and the word “toad” suddenly popped into his mind? Then Bernie grabbed a random owl to go along with it, added some adjective and adverb figurative descriptors that had to work with the phonology of his lyrics and made Elton John’s voice flow?

And I laughed and posted this here.

That seems pretty likely! The songwriter reaches for simple/nature images and picked a couple just about at random because they fit the rhythm of the lines and rhymed appropriately and there you go. That seems to me a lot more likely than a deliberate decision to include a lizard of the genus Phrynosoma for some figurative reason!

It’s a kind of fun post, with a bonus link to a good cover of the song, so click through if you’ve got a minute.

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Write the first chapter last, Among other ideas that seem weird to me

This post at Anne R Allen’s blog caught my eye: How to Start Your Novel or Memoir and 11 Clichéd Openers to Avoid

Because of course it did. Novel openings are an interesting topic. But the opening bit of this post is what REALLY caught me:

Here’s the most important thing for a new writer to know about composing the opening scene for your novel or memoir:

WRITE THE FIRST CHAPTER LAST

That’s right. I know writers who have agonized for months — even years — over a first chapter, never going on to tell their stories. Don’t do this. Instead, write a place holder. You’ll get to fix it later.

Really? I said to myself. I mean … really? Because you sure seem to think this is important, just look at those big, big letters, yet (a) I never do that, and (b) I can’t imagine doing that. For me, the opening paragraphs and pages and the entire opening chapter usually undergo much (much) less revision than chapter five. Chapter five is roughly the beginning of the middle, and that is generally where a manuscript falls apart and has to be stitched back together.

Every now and then a different chapter gets written and put into place before what I thought was chapter one. I think that happened with one or another of the Black Dog books. Or at least I’m pretty sure I remember writing a new chapter one for something at some point. Oh, now that I’m thinking about it, the first scene I wrote for Tarashana is going to wind up as part of chapter five or six or somewhere about there. The second scene I wrote for Tarashana was the actual opening scene. (I have about a hundred pages written, maybe a hundred fifty.)

But as a rule, I write the opening scene first and barely revise it. I most certainly do not ever write the opening scene or chapter last. Never.

By the time you’ve written the ending of your first draft, you’re going to have a fantastic, original take on your novel’s opener. You may decide to lop off the first (and / or second and third) chapters altogether. Or you’ll realize that the story should have started earlier rather than later than you originally thought.

That’s what happened to me with Ghostwriters in the Sky.

Oh! Well, if YOU did it this way, this must be super important advice for everyone.

I do actually have some advice here. It is not for how to write your novel. It’s about how to offer advice about writing novels.

a) Never assume your writing process applies to anyone but you, and

b) Definitely do not announce your writing advice in huge letters as though it should be engraved on a stone tablet handed down by God.

I will say, the post improves after this. It’s entertaining to read about cliched novel openings. It is also entertaining, imo, to think of cliched openings that work perfectly. Thus we get this:

9. The mirror scene

Of course LMB starts Mirror Dance with a mirror scene. This is certainly not a coincidence.

11. The alarm clock — queen of cliched openings

And I at once think of The Breach by Patrick Lee, which starts this way:

On the first anniversary of his release from prison, Travis Chase woke at four in the morning to bright sunlight framing his window blinds.

He wakes up! This is actually a great opening paragraph, scene, and chapter. Patrick Lee pulls this off with no trouble because he’s a very good writer.

Anne R Allen does end by saying:

Of course, if you use one of these openers in an especially clever and original way, you may delight your readers.

I mean, mostly her advice is actually pretty good, and I do like her blog.

But I would never, ever write the first chapter last.

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Yes, you should let an author know you love their books

I realize you all already know this.

But, I just thought I’d mention, a few weeks ago, several people happened to write me a super-nice letter, or series of tweets in one case, about The Floating Islands and The Sphere of the Winds. These all happened to arrive in quick succession, one right after the other.

As a result, I paused the other things I was working on, re-read bits of both books, then sat down and wrote a quick outline of important scenes for a third book in this series.

True, at a couple of points, the outline says merely: Stuff Happens. Nevertheless, I now have a much clearer idea of how the book should open, several crucial and fun scenes, and (roughly) how it ends. I mean, I already had a basic notion about how I’d like to handle the central problem. I know exactly how I’d like the world to be better at the end than it is at the start. But I do have a significantly clearer notion about all that now, plus a good many details along the way.

Will I write this third book? Don’t know. Could I write it? Sure. Am I inclined to write it? Despite no prospect of getting rights back to the first book, maybe. I’m certainly a lot more inclined to write it than I was last month.

That’s a direct result of those letters.

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Book Promotion without Social Media

A possibly interesting post at Jane Friedman’s blog: How to Market Your Book Without Social Media

This caught my eye because, as part of “focus on writing” emphasis for the year, I’m not really doing anything much with social media right now.

I glance at Twitter for a few minutes if I’m at a red light and retweet something funny about agents breeding only in the Sargasso Sea. [This is actually eels, by the way, and did anybody else know that tidbit of trivia? Eels are extraordinary in many ways.]

I look at Facebook for thirty seconds and hit like on a nice gardening picture on a Facebook group, or on someone’s nice win photo from a recent show, or whatever.

That’s about it right now. So, as I say, the above post caught my eye. The author of the post writes nonfiction; eg, her latest is a book about gardening.

But there are still many avenues on and off the Internet to help drive book sales. Here’s my first dozen...

  1. author website
  2. blog
  3. email newsletter
  4. guest posts
  5. author’s own podcasts
  6. YouTube channel
  7. Professional organizations
  8. Guest appearances on podcasts
  9. Sending out review copies
  10. Speaking
  11. LinkedIn
  12. Local bookstores

That’s an interesting list. I certainly ought to do more with my newsletter. I know that. It’s not like I don’t know that. It is on my list of things to do, eventually.

Anyway, some of this is absolutely not going to work for me. I do not plan to do a podcast, ever. I don’t think that’s my thing at all. No YouTube channel, ever. There is just no way.

I expect this sort of thing is different for fiction versus nonfiction. I haven’t managed to get a BookBub ad yet. I need to apply for one again.

Anyway, this post could be worth a look if this is something that’s relevant to you.

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Recent Reading: Witness for the Dead

So … I liked The Witness for the Dead. But for me, it’s by no means the equal of The Goblin Emperor.

Three main reasons for that:

a) Maia is, imo, a much better example of a kind protagonist. Celehar is a typical decent person who does not stand out in this way from an enormous crowd of fantasy progatonists.

When Maia is first told he’ll be emperor, before he gets to court, when he first sets foot on the airship that will carry him to court, he pauses to reassure the crew of the airship. He thinks to do that even though this stunning news has just been delivered.

When the coronation takes place, at the end of a very, very long day of fasting and ritual, when the princes take their oaths of fealty, he both sees and responds to the distress of the Prince of Thu-Athamar: “Neither blame nor gilt belongs to you. Do not hold them so closely.”

These are just remarkable instances of empathy, compassion, and kindness. Moments like this absolutely pervade The Goblin Emperor. In contrast, Thara Celehar is much more focused on himself, on his own feelings. This doesn’t mean he isn’t a compassionate person. He is. But he’s not like Maia.

b) Thara Celehar is too self-effacing and will not stand up for himself.

Maia doubts himself at least as much as Celehar. He is constantly thinking of himself as unworthy, ignorant, clumsy, inarticulate, whatever. But he stands up for himself when it’s important. Celehar just does not. This is frustrating.

c) This is the first book of a longer story. This is true even if Addison never writes another book in this series. Witness simply does not feel finished.

Celehar is shown as doubting himself and self-effacing and unwilling to stand up for himself because — this is the feeling I get — his character arc is going to involve moving toward a stronger, more confident stance over the course of a longer story. That’s how it feels.

This is even more true because the hint of romance in Witness is just that: a hint. This story reads like the first part of a grief-and-recovery story and the first part of a romance. In every possible way, Witness feels incomplete.

While I would love to see a true sequel to The Goblin Emperor, the story is much more complete as it stands.

So, Witness, well, I enjoyed it. But for me, it’s an order of magnitude below TGE.

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