Excitement!

No actual writing type of work got done this weekend. But it wasn’t my fault! I was tired!

It was a show weekend — the second of, let’s see, eight this fall, I think. Last year I wasn’t showing, but this year I am. The points are good, there are many more majors available, and I would love to finish championships on some of my girls quick before the points are recalculated next May. My friend Deb is entering some of the same shows so we can boost the entry numbers and help each other at ringside. We each showed three girls at the previous show — it was MAD and we will never show that many again without lining up [A LOT] more help. In advance. There are all these exciting moments where you suddenly need to take three dogs in to compete for winners and you’re grabbing just anybody from ringside and handing them a leash and an armband and saying “Just keep her pointed in the right direction! Try to get her to look happy! You need to be second in the line! Run!”

And then off the bewildered dog goes, spinning in circles to keep her real owner in sight, wondering who this total stranger is who’s trying to feed her liver. This does not make a dog look her best! So, a little too exciting.

In general no one wants to hear the point system explained, so I won’t explain it, but! Kenya won her first major this past Saturday! Yay! Hurrah! Go Kenya! There were ten girls entered and all but one were quite nice and several were VERY nice and my Kenya won! (Someone else won on Sunday.)

This is Kenya’s first win photo; I haven’t got her current win photo yet but this one from last year will give you an idea:

This picture was at a small show and she only got one point. Saturday’s win was much more important! She is now for all intents and purposes halfway to her championship! Because you can pick up single points anywhere, but majors are not easy to come by.

Anyway, it’s not just a matter of showing up in time for your class. Even after bathing the girls on Friday, all morning Saturday AND Sunday was taken up by touching up feet and ears and tails and flattening coats and trying this volumizing cream on Kenya’s ears and that perfumed oil on Adora’s back (yes, really, it makes the ruby’s coat shiny, a very nice effect, not artificial looking at all). So what with one thing and another, I just didn’t even turn on the computer. But I felt bad about it!

Well, sort of bad about it. Actually, I was listening to SNUFF by Terry Pratchett while driving, and I must admit that this led me to re-read bits of NIGHT WATCH when I got home, and I was not very inclined to work on anything. And I really was too tired anyway.

I’m going to join Audible this week and download a lot of Pratchett’s books for the rest of the show season driving. Starting with the rest of the Sam Vimes ones. Almost makes me look forward to those long drives! There are lots I’ve never read because I’ve honestly been saving them for this exact purpose, and now with Audible I don’t think it will be too expensive.

So, anyway, the only part of the revision left is the hard part. I mean deciding whether there needs to be a touch more romance (yes) and putting it in; and deepening the character arcs and all that sort of thing. So you see why I am not keen on doing it while in a partial coma. I would LIKE to put it off till this weekend, when I will actually be home because I’m not showing this weekend, and I can do one marathon session and get done with it. But I may tackle it tonight if I feel too guilty to take a whole week off.

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A good idea whose time has come . . . and gone

I’m leaning toward declaring my support for this idea — the idea that it would be better if physical bookstores didn’t have subsections for different fiction genres, but just shelved all fiction alphabetically by author.

It won’t happen, of course, but what if it did? Sure, you’d spend more time browsing past romances / horror / literary fiction / and more romances while you looked for the fantasy novel you want, but

a) time browsing in a bookstore is certainly not wasted;

b) discovering that stuff outside your genre sometimes looks appealing might well broaden everybody’s reading experience;

c) it would sure discourage treating literary fiction as a special elevated category of fiction.

All three of those effects look like features rather than bugs to me.

On the other hand, how long are physical bookstores going to be important, anyway? And would anybody at all find it helpful or pleasant to “browse” online? I don’t see how. I even think the categories at Amazon are almost 100% useless — DOES anybody ever just browse through the no doubt infinite offerings under “fantasy books”? Surely not. Surely everyone searches strictly by author?

“Browsing” for me means looking through the SFBC mailing to see what’s out and reading blogs to see what’s good, and that sure limits my view of what’s out there. The only things that generally expand my horizons as a reader is getting sold on a book outside my normal range by a fantastic review on a book review blog, or getting hooked by a well-written hook on the SFBC mailing.

Of course, I can’t really browse in a physical store because the nearest said store is an 80 mile trip, one way. I do miss browsing sometimes! One of the very few disadvantages to living in the country.

How and where do you all browse? Or notice books usually outside your range?

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Recent writing —

Just in case you’re wondering.

The first cut? That took the book down to 116,000 words, still very high, but way less than the 146,000 I started with. I’ve never cut whole chapters before. Wow. There they go: chapters five and six in their entirety. That was an odd feeling. I saved ’em in case later I want to go back and see what was in there and if anything should come back.

Now I’m plugging holes. I had several places toward the end where it just said in bold AND THEN SOMEONE DOES SOMETHING and then I went on. Time to figure out what happened there! Actually, I have now figured this stuff out, so it’s just a matter of writing the necessary scenes. I’m altering part of Ch 19, taking out one minor character and putting in a different one and sorting out the main character’s flow of action. This is not too painful. Writing new material is always easier than revising stuff.

Later this week, I’ll look at my notes (I have 23 brief notes) and fix continuity issues; also, very important, I need to put in something of a romance subplot, even it’s going to be minor, and deepen character arcs for both main characters.

I expect to wind up with something like 120,000 words. Rather than cutting again at that point, if I can only get to the point where I think the character arcs work, I think that’ll be the time to send the ms off to my agent and get her input.

All this is slowed down because a) I admit I’m not very keen on revision, and b)the fall show season has started and I’m showing most weekends. Kenya got reserve winners this past Saturday and again Sunday, and while it is better for your ego to get second place than nothing, it would be BETTER TO WIN. Oh, well. Every weekend is a new show! (Two or three new shows, actually, since each day is a separate event.) Wish me luck! I will be listening to lots of audiobooks as I drive to shows! Currently I’m 3/4 of the way through SNUFF by Terry Pratchett.

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By Popular Request!

Okay, one request, but sometimes that’s plenty!

Here’s my list of animal behavior books written for a popular and semi-popular audience. This list is biased toward books published some time ago; remember I got them all or almost all back when I was in grad school.

Innocent Killers, by Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall. It focuses on Cape Hunting Dogs, golden jackals, and spotted hyenas (one of the VERY FEW mammal species where females are dominant, and a GREAT species to think about when designing a new species for your SFF novel!).

Here Am I — Where Are You, by Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology. It focuses on graylag geese, which have this really great system of very intense male-male friendships, very interesting.

Mongoose Watch, by Anne Rasa — dwarf mongoose, another species where females are dominant to males; a very interesting, highly social species.

Elephant Memories, by Cynthia Moss — African elephants, and really outstanding.

Portraits in the Wild, by Cynthia Moss — well-presented, accurate brief observations about lots of the large East African mammals.

The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Monty Roberts is really interesting and engaging and also gives a nice picture of wild horse behavior as well as training methods based on natural horse behavior.

Almost Human, by Shirley Strub — savannah baboons. Stupid title, but the book is good.

Baboon Mothers and Infants, by Jeanne Altmann — savannah baboons

Primate Societies, by Smuts et al — prosimians, tamarins and marmosets (another female-dominant species), New World monkeys, colobines (the forest leaf-eating monkeys and langurs), cercopithecines (the macaques and so forth), baboons, gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimps, bonobos.

Peacemaking Among Primates, by Franz de Waal — and lots of other titles; highly, highly recommended for chimps, bonobos, gorillas particularly. de Waal is a wonderful writer.

Wolf: The ecology and behavior of an endangered species, by L David Mech

The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson, for how dog’s are really wired psychologically

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Beckhoff and Goodall, because that’s a great book on a really neglected aspect of behavior.

Dolphin Societies by Karen Pryor and Kenneth Norris

Cetacean Societies by Mann et al, for bottlenose dolphins, sperm whales, killer whales, and humpback whales, and let me just mention here that I just got this one, that I’ve been reading it this week, and that killer whale behavior is SO WEIRD. You know what? In some populations, both male and female offspring stay with their mother for their whole lives! Which is called male-female philopatry, in case you’re interested. You know how many other mammal species do that? Right: zero. This never happens! Figuring out what ecological factors encourage and allow this unique system in killer whales is the sort of thing that can really add depth to your own SFF species and world. Also, you won’t believe the parallels between common chimps and bottlenose dolphins, and between sperm whales and African elephants. Why do we see such convergent behavior? Again, because of ecological factors which are more similar than first appears.

And if you want to have a female-dominant species? Well, take a look at what creates that system in spotted hyenas, dwarf mongooses, and tamarins, and you’ll have a much better chance of designing a species where that system makes since.

Remember all the time that behavior depends on ecological pressures and that you can’t have a female-dominant species unless ecological factors are pushing behavior that way.

Enjoy!

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Here’s something keen —

Something I regret about the pre-Worldcon thing is that I never took the time to look at samples of art for the artists up for the Hugo.

So I appreciate this link, which gives a retrospective for all the artist Hugo winners through history.

Naturally I really really REALLY love Michael Whelan, who was doing lots of cover art during the era where I paid a whole lot more attention to artists. Thirteen Hugos, wow! Didn’t he withdraw his name from consideration eventually, to let others have a turn? So a classy guy as well as a fabulous artist. His Little Fuzzy covers . . . and the ones he did for Cherryh’s Chanur books . . . and his covers for the Pern books? Absolutely definitive.

A lot of great artists at the link, though, well worth scanning through the whole list.

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Recent “reading”

Actually listening. I just finished (finally) an audiobook I was listening to on the drive to Chicago and back — ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Fford.

I have to mention this, because it may be the cleverest book I ever read and I hereby declare you all must go read it.

The main character is the “written Thursday”, who is the protagonist in the books about the “real Thursday” (who was introduced in Fford’s first book, THE EYRE AFFAIR, which involves somebody kidnapping Jane Eyre from her book and holding her hostage, in an alternate world where people take their literature VERY seriously. Did you follow all that?)

So, the written Thursday lives, obviously, in the Book World, which contains all the settings and characters ever written. I just don’t know how to describe the Book World. I mean, there are islands for speculative fiction and racy novels and so on, in a sea of phonemes.

There’s quite a bit of interplay between the real world and the Book World. The real Thursday vanished when visiting the Book World, and now the written Thursday is trying to track her down while all kinds of things complicate matters.

At one point the written Thursday visits the real world, and that part may have some of my favorite touches, as for example Thursday is so amazed by visual detail because in the book world only important things are clearly seen, with washes of indistinct magenta between.

Just all kinds of extremely clever details, far too many to even begin to mention, plus this beautiful touch right at the end where we finally find out where the real Thursday is (it makes so much sense! And is so funny!).

So, anyway, if you see a copy sitting around, grab it! You totally do not need to read the earlier ones in the series, go right ahead and start with this one, it stands alone perfectly.

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I see my TBR pile expanding . . .

What with the fall releases that are about to hit the shelves.

I thought of this because of this:

Although the only one on this list I’d add to mine is THE DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by Lani Taylor. I haven’t actually read the first book of this series — DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE — yet, so this is not on the very top of my must-have list. But I’ve heard so much about DAUGHTER that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need the second book, too.

Now, mind you, I like Into The Hall Of Books well enough to look up any of her most-anticipated list; maybe I’ll decide to try them, too. Because, hey, when your TBR pile falls below fifty, maybe it’s time to stock up on new titles, right?

Anyway, I then saw a similar list here., at Love Is Not A Triangle, which may be my favorite book-blog title EVER. I am not nearly so into romance — this probably doesn’t surprise you — and definitely appreciate a blog that rates books on “triangleness”, because I am not very keen on Teenage Angst and Love Triangles and all that.

And on this list? Look! THE RAVEN BOYS by Stiefvater! Now THAT is definitely on the very top of my must-have-it list, because THE SCORPIO RACES was one of my favorite books of the year. And I hadn’t known about it till I saw it here.

What else is on my Fall Must-Buy list?

CROWN OF EMBERS by Rae Carson, because I really loved GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

Lois McMaster Bujold’s new one, whatever that’s called.

THE BLINDING KNIFE by Brent Weeks, because I really enjoyed the first one in the series.

The third one in Martha Wells’ THE CLOUD ROADS trilogy.

And I’d love a bunch of titles that have already been released, but that I’ve been putting off buying. But these are the ones that are actually due out shortly that I MUST HAVE.

What’s on your Fall Must Have list?

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Back to work, plus the world’s most beautiful costume

It turns out that it takes kind of a long time, after nearly a week off, to get back into cutting mode. Good thing it’s just easy cutting. If I had to think much about plot or characterization, that’d be harder. Probably I’ll arrive at that part sometime next week, but by then hopefully I’ll be back in the mood.

Meanwhile, I’m totally in the mood to read books I bought at Chicon. I read TIASSA by Brust last night. Meh. I liked the previous one, IORICH, much better. MUCH MUCH better.

What makes the difference? Easy: IORICH sticks to Vlad’s pov and voice; TIASSA jumps all over the place in pov and half of it is written in the longwinded PHOENIX GUARDS style. Which I like fine, but not in a Vlad story!

So, meh. You know what I want? Bujold’s new one. Months to go yet.

However, speaking of Chicon, you MUST follow this link and look at this costume:

www.flickr.com/photos/infinitepixels/7918556266/in/set-72157631377634390

and if you want to see more costumes, some of which are also very impressive, try this link:

www.flickr.com/photos/infinitepixels/sets/72157631377634390/

If the links don’t go live in the post, I bet you can cut and paste them with no trouble. Since I just did. You should definitely look at the second to last, the guy with the wings. That was an amazing costume! He made those wings fold up and stretch out — I have no idea how.

And thanks, Mike! A real camera makes such a difference!

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Okay! More or less the last Chicon post, probably, plus Recent Reading because it’s relevant

Which will make for a long post, but hey.

First let me just say that I was happy with the way the Hugos went. I only voted for the print categories because I didn’t know enough about the other categories, but next year maybe I’ll take more time and listen to all the podcasts, even. E Lily Yu was very charming as she accepted the Hugo for Best New Writer, and judging by her speech, Betsy Wollheim really deserved Best Editor Long Form. Evidently her writers really pushed for her to win, always a good sign! Best Short Story was The Paper Menagerie, which I voted for; Best Novelette was Six Months Three Days, which I TOTALLY voted for; Best Novella was The Man Who Bridged the Mist, which I LOVED and definitely need to read again, plus I really must look up Kij Johnson’s other work. Best Novel was AMONG OTHERS, which was my second choice and certainly not a surprise.

Arguing about and voting for the Hugos was a suprisingly fun thing and I think maybe next year I will buy a voting membership, even though I doubt very much that I’ll go.

Working backwards chronologically:

Here’s an idea for a moderator! If I ever moderate a panel, I’ll keep this technique in mind: Louise Marley (THE BRAHMS DECEPTION etc) noted down every panelist’s info and introduced everyone in order, thus getting the job done efficiently and subtly establishing her control of the panel. Clever! I am not so much into music as all that, but apparently her first career was in music. I’m thinking of picking up one of her books, though I didn’t before the con. Other panelists besides me on “Write What You Don’t Know” were Lynda Williams, Howard Andrew Jones, and Jack Skillingstead.

Now, MY opinion is that the minimal amount of research you can do to ground your story is: read other people’s novels. I mean, if you want to write a book set in an alternate China? How about UNDER HEAVEN by Kay, BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Hughart, etc. That’ll give you the flavor of the setting without a ton of research, right?

Of course, Marley writes these historical fantasies! And Howard Jones’ first book is set in an alternate Baghdad that is supposed to be very closely based on The Arabian Nights. So it won’t suprise you to know that they both do a TON more research than that, to the point of Jones’ learning Arabic, though he says he’s slow to learn it, but wow.

Both of them really emphasize going back to primary sources, not so much to get details of architecture etc (although that, too), but to get patterns of speech and things like that, which no secondary source will give you. That sounds like a great idea but I don’t plan EVER to write a book where I need to do that much work! Much less learn Arabic!

Jones’ book DESERT OF SOULS is one I just read, though, since I knew he would be on this panel. It’s quite good. We had this fun discussion afterward about his two main characters and my brother commented, “So it’s like pairing Sherlock Holms with Archie Goodwin, then,” which made everyone laugh because it was really very apt. I’m looking forward to the sequel because obviously the girl CANNOT have married the guy she was promised to, don’t tell ME that actually happened. So although mostly self-contained, important elements did not get tied up in the first book.

Now, Jack Skellingstead and Lynda Williams are a little more like me, except they both write SF rather than F. But they also both totally do casual handwaving to make their science fit the needs of their stories, so they talked about that, about how to put in a little real science or (more important) make fake science sound plausible, or sound cool enough no one cares whether it’s real or not.

I haven’t read anything by Skellingstead because most of it’s been short and I read almost no short stories. He does have a novel out, but I’m afraid I didn’t read that either. I did read the first book of Lynda Williams’ HUGE Okal Rel saga, which apparently has quite the fan base and other people writing stories in it. Really that’s a good series to go look at if you want to study a series that inspires a cult following.

The first book is THE COURTESAN PRINCE, as you may recall from an earlier post. It is not flawless, but it is one that draws you in. For me it was a slow starter, largely because the first protagonist we meet, Ann, is rather a twit. Impulsive, volatile, emotional, hormone-driven, maybe a bit dim, Ann is exactly the kind of person who makes me roll my eyes. But as the book went on, I have to say, I got kinda caught up in the story and wound up really involved in her plotline with Von more than the other main plotline.

Most interesting about the Okal Rel universe, and it is very interesting, is that the two main cultural branches are so very much a contrast. Williams apparently started building this culture when she was quite young and didn’t realize that she was really building TWO dystopias, not one violent culture with questionable attitudes (to put it lightly) toward killing and slavery plus one very very very nice culture where your own special virtual social worker will hover over you night and day to make sure you never do anything to hurt anybody else or yourself. Given a choice, I’d choose to live in . . . uh . . .

So the book is sort of interesting just for that, I mean just for considering what makes a dystopia and what makes a utopia. It would be REALLY interesting to poll the evidently huge Okal Rel fanbase and ask: Is the Reetian culture a dystopia or a utopia? With a forced-choice question so no one can pick “neither”. I would be fascinated to see what people thought and whether and how the response broke down geographically. Also I’d like to know how old fans were when they discovered the series; I’d be willing to bet that this is a series that grabs you harder if you’re younger when you read the first book.

Which raises questions about YA vs adult, but hey, this post is going to be long enough, so maybe later.

The panel on Essential Worldbuilding was kind of repetitious for me because it was in some ways similar to Write What You Don’t Know. THere were some great writers on the panel: Jacqueline Carey, whom unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to tell her how much I love her books; Valerie Estelle Frankel, who mostly writes nonfiction which I haven’t read; Roberta Rogow, who writes alternate history mysteries; Jean Johnson, who wrote A SOLDIERS DUTY etc, which I haven’t read yet; and Martha Wells, who sat next to me, which was great because I DID get a chance to tell her how much I loved HER latest book, THE CLOUD ROADS.

Seriously, YOU MUST READ THE CLOUD ROADS. It’s a wonderful book! With a great world! That is exactly the sort of world I would create! Which is not surprising because Martha Wells and I turn out to have been separated at birth. The panel went like this: Jacqueline Carey: I do all this research; Jean Jackson: I do this huge story bible and work everything out about the world; Rogow: Of course I have to work things out in detail first because I’m writing mysteries; me: I totally don’t do any of that; Wells: Me, either. [We look at each other: They do what? Really?]

Constantly during the panel, Carey (the moderator) would ask a question about worldbuilding and Jean Johnson would want to go into great detail about how she works out every single element of every kind that could possibly be relevant, and Martha Wells and I would look at each other: Really?

I was all like: If you are spending all your time on worldbuilding, you need to cut it out and move forward with writing. And Martha Wells was all like: Yeah, that. Or vice versa, I don’t remember who said what exactly, but seriously, I’m sure that’s why Wells’ book feels so much like one of mine, because neither of us feels the slightest need to figure everything out and explain it all to the reader, we just throw in details and move on with no explanations of why there’s a city sitting in the mountains on a huge turning wheel or who built it there. It’s just there, move on. We’ll figure out the why part only if explaining that is necessary to the story.

Mind you, Wells’ protagonist can fly. Her character isn’t human, I don’t think anybody in her world is really human (they act human enough the reader’s involvement with the characters isn’t challenged, but the details of body language and stuff are different). I mean, take a look at this:

This is the protagonist, Moon. Wouldn’t you love to be one of his people for a bit? Wings! So cool! Great story, great plot, great characters, great writing, go grab a copy. The second book is out now but I may not read it yet because the third doesn’t come out till December.

And Essential Worldbuilding? Do it however works for you. What works for me is: take a real culture, strip away most of the physical details, keep the societal attitutes, and presto: a culture with depth and consistency. Plus I would add, the details of daily life matter and need to be consistent with the environment surrounding your society. Is it a really cold land? Because in that case you may want to have your people eating barley or buckwheat rather than wheat. Details like that. And Martha Wells does what I would do for a nonhuman species: takes the mannerisms of a real species and spins them around a little and give them to her people. Poof! Nonhuman body language that feels real.

What does not work for me, or for Wells: if you are buiding a world, that’s a hobby and it can be fun, but every hour you spend drawing detailed maps of the other continent and working out what was happening is an hour you are not moving forward with your book. I’d say: pick one, worldbuilding or writing, and be aware there’s only so many hours in the day.

Okay! One more and I’ll be done: Designing Fantasy Animals. That was Howard Taylor, Daio (artist, unicorns), Barbara Galler-Smith, and Jean Johnson. And me. Nobody else had my level of expertise in the subject, but everybody on the panel turned out to have a reason to know and care about correctness in fantasy animals. Daio has horses, Galler-Smith emphasized animal behavior in college, stuff like that. We all agreed that wrong details drive us crazy, especially if the animal is being presented as accurate but is actually totally wrong. And we all agreed that an alien species or a fantasy nonhuman sentient shouldn’t speak and think just like a human. Actually, a lot of agreement all the way around on this topic.

A great way to build an alien species that feels right and consistent? Take a real species and base the behavior of yours on that. I don’t mean the details; I mean the deep instincts and broad patterns. Like if you want a species where females are dominant to males? Read about spotted hyena behavior, about marmosets and tamarins, about dwarf mongooses, about coatis, about bonobos. You’ve just about hit all the mammal species where females are in fact dominant to males. Pick one and base your species on that. It wouldn’t hurt to think about what ecological and behavioral factors lead to female dominance and make sure that’s consistent with your species. Like in marmosets: females have got to have priority for food resources because otherwise they won’t get enough food to lactate adequately. So a typical troop is one female who has twins, two or three males who carry the babies for her and give her priority access to food, and that’s it.

Or in spotted hyenas, the males are quite likely to attack and eat cubs if they get the chance, so females keep the males away from the dens; also the cubs dig the dens so the farther back in the tunnels you go, the smaller they get, so that only the smallest cubs can fit into them, which means the males can’t. Plus other stuff is going on, it’s a fascinating species.

Or in bonobos, females act as though they’re related even when they’re not and form alliances, and males don’t, which is why females can gang up on males and beat them up and wind up dominant. It’s completely the other way around in common chimps, where males form alliances and females don’t — if you’re a girl, you totally want to be a bonobo.

I handed out a reference list with lots of well-written popular books about lots of social animals. I’ll post that if anybody’s interested? Obviously it’s a totally fascinating subject, right?

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