Okay, so plenty of progress with Silver Circle this past week, which was very nice. I mean, this is definitely not as fast as a Tuyo-world novel; in fact, it’s slightly less than half that fast. But movement forward has nevertheless been decent. I’ll tip over 100,000 words sometime today or tomorrow, I expect. This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I were writing tightly plotted romances. I’d be finishing the draft for sure. Well, I knew perfectly well this story was going to go long, so whatever, it’s fine.
I had a four-day weekend, so that was nice, but the kittens had their spay/neuter appointments this past Thursday, which was distracting that day. I set up the puppy room to once more be a kitten room. Would you like to know how fast the kittens bounced back to normal? Maximillian bounced back THE SAME AFTERNOON.
Play with me! I’m totally fine!
A spay is a much bigger surgery, but Magdalene seemed almost back to herself the same day as well, and totally back to normal the next day. I wound up opening the kitten room back up Friday morning and letting them have unrestricted access to the house, though not letting them outside because, I mean, I know they had surgery even if they don’t.
24 hours after the spay
You know how big a spay incision is for a kitten? Three stitches! Wow! It seems practically not there at all compared to a C-section incision. (Those go to about eighteen stitches for a Cavalier.) I was going to take her in for a tech to remove the sutures because I assume she will be more wiggly than a cooperative dog, but three? Ha, no, I think I can manage. Huge shaved area is huge, but whatever, as long as Magdalene doesn’t care, I don’t care. While Maximillian could probably climb trees with no ill effects, I don’t expect I’ll let him out in the yard until Magdalene can join him, just to be fair.
Meanwhile, on Friday, I was a lot less distracted by The Horde of pets. Though I did take dogs to the park Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I also got quite a bit of work done.
Let’s have a fake interview!
So, where are you in Silver Circle?
I’ve completed 21 chapters, not all in strict order. Nobody has died (yet), but a very dramatic event occurred yesterday. I wasn’t sure I was going to do that until it happened, but I think The Event is probably going to stay in the draft now that it’s there. Everyone is moving into position for the endgame now. Nobody is actually in place yet. I think I’m probably about 2/3 of the way through the book.
How confident are you about that?
Everything always takes more words and more time than expected, so … not very sure. But I’ve outlined the rest of the book!
Well, no, I mean, not really. I’ve added a list of upcoming chapters with a very, very brief note about whose pov each chapter is in and what should happen. I mean, a couple of phrases or maybe one sentence each. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen in some of those chapters, besides a three-word hint.
I don’t know if I’ll even stick to this. I wouldn’t be surprised if some chapters go long and get cut in half, or if new chapters appear because I need the action picked up somewhere else for a bit. However, for me, this is sort of close to an outline! There are currently 36 chapters total, counting a denouement [still can’t spell that right without spellcheck, grumble] and an epilogue.
You’ve decided you like epilogues, apparently.
Well, that’s not really new. I often like epilogues; I just didn’t used to feel they were necessary or useful for my books. I guess now I sometimes do. The end of a long series like this does seem like an appropriate place for an epilogue, although what I might actually do is nod forward and then write a separate long epilogue next year.
I suppose you might call that a “Gratuitous Epilogue.”
Or some variation on that, yes, could be! If AKH could do it, I can do it. I’ve been thinking about how to structure that and how far in the future to put it for a while now.
Just how many books are you planning to write next year?
Good lord, don’t even ask. Maybe, I don’t know, four? Five? None of which exist even in draft form yet, but I hope the Tuyo-world ones are fast. (Extremely fast, I hope!) I might not get to a Black Dog epilogue next year, I admit.
This coming week should be more of the same, minus any surgeries for pets, I hope!
I know what happens at the climax of Silver Circle, but figuring out what exactly is going to happen in some of the upcoming chapters probably won’t be necessary this week. Probably by next week. I sure hope I know what should happen by the time I really need to!
Check this out: A new cookbook by BVC authors
Click through and you will find a list of all the recipes by author. The recipes are presented in a highly individual way! Or, I mean, the recipes themselves are presented in a relatively standardized format for measurements and abbreviations and so on, but the text surrounding the recipes is highly individual. Some of us dropped in recipes with a paragraph or two of description per recipe, but also one recipe is presented as the culmination of a short story, and other recipes are written kind of as poetry.
I read the whole thing in draft — I love cookbooks and read them cover to cover — and this one is chock-full of genuinely inviting recipes. I’ve made a good handful of recipes from this book already and bookmarked a bunch more. If you like cookbooks, highly recommended. I don’t see a paper edition, but I would like one. Maybe one is in the works. In the meantime, here’s the ebook.
So, you know Whispering Wood is the fifth Elemental Blessings book, right?
The other four are, in order: Troubled Waters, Royal Airs, Jeweled Fire, and Unquiet Land, and before this my favorite was the first, which I fell in love with instantly the first time I read it because it is so warm and cozy. Now I’m not totally sure Troubled Waters is my favorite. Whispering Wood is sure right up there for me.
Whispering Wood isn’t quite as cozy. Or, you know what, maybe it is. I can’t exactly remember whether various plot elements took me by surprise in Troubled Waters; I just remember the sense that of course everything would work out. Naturally it’s obvious that everything will work out in this one too, but I can definitely report that, although in the broadest sense the plot is predictable, lots of details of the plot took me by surprise. This was fun, particularly because everything was beautifully foreshadowed, so it was delightful to watch the pieces click into place. I even noticed certain foreshadowing elements – Ah ha! I would say to myself. I bet that detail turns up again! Then I’d forget about it until yep, there it was. I enjoyed that a lot.
Also, I’ve been meaning to write a post eventually about books that do certain things very well – I mean, like pointing to Faking It by Jennifer Cruisie for a great crowd scene. Well, Whispering Wood offers a particularly elegant use of flashbacks. Now and then, not too often, there’s a short chapter that starts Valentina is eight or Valentina is fourteen, and these flashback chapters (a) lend depth to the character; (b) lend depth to the relationship between Valentina and Sebastien; and (c) lead into a lovely little epilogue. I can’t think of another example of flashbacks being used quite this way, or quite this elegantly. It’s suddenly a technique I’m filing under “would be neat to try someday.” Also, these flashbacks are written in present tense, while the present-day story is written in past tense. This is one element of craft you don’t see that often and it works beautifully here.
Oh! You know what else! I really liked a certain element of the plot. Everybody’s being heroic and doing their best and all these minor characters would be great as protagonists. This element would make a great central plot. I’m thinking of stealing parts of it and recasting those parts in a way that would fit an Invictus sequel. I need to make notes about how to maybe do that.
Meanwhile, back to Whispering Wood!
Valentina is Darien’s much younger sister. Like him, she’s hunti – you may remember that hunti is the wood/bone elemental power. Its characteristics are steadfastness, loyalty, certainty, resolve, traits like that. Let me see, it goes like this:
Hunti – steadfastness, loyalty, certainty, resolve; also orderliness and stability. Those last two aren’t official, but that’s how hunti characters are written.
Sweela – imagination, love, charm, creativity; also impulsivity and wildness. Again, those last two aren’t official, but that’s what sweela characters are like.
Elay – joy, hope, vision, grace; also distraction, removal from human concerns.
Coru – flexibility, change, resilience; also unpredictability and untameabilty.
Torz – serenity, patience, endurance, contentment; also nurturance and calmness.
Those are partial lists of the official qualities plus my perception of how the characters are written. Although these are all fine – it’s a hallmark of this system that all characteristics are positive and all blessings are, you know, blessings – because of the impulsivity of sweela and the airheadedness of Elay and the instability of Coru, I feel like if I stepped into this world, I’d be hunti or torz. So, what I mean is, I was really prepared to love Valentina. And I did. I liked her a lot. She’s somebody I could believe in; the choices she made all the way through were believable; and I liked the way she interacted with Corene and Taro and others, including Darien. Tough relationship there, but I liked the way it worked out. Even though, as I say, the broad strokes of the plot are predictable, I’m chuckling as I type this because so many of the details really did take me by surprise. All of them in a good way. The ending was, again, predictable in the broadest possible sense, but delightful, perfect, and even surprising in the details. I’m already looking forward to re-reading this one; it’s the kind of story I’ll love at least as much as I anticipate certain plot points I know are coming up.
There is also a lot of really nice writing in this book. I especially found the description of Valentina’s experience of grief when her mother dies – this is in a flashback – superb. Really moving. The event is both long expected and absolutely catastrophic. Val had thought she was prepared for grief, but she finds that the expectation of loss and the reality of loss are such different experiences that they bear absolutely no resemblance to one another. The experience is so well drawn, and we also see some important roots of Valentina’s estrangement from her brother here.
I’m trying not to say too much about the plot, or actually anything much about the plot, so I’ll stop there. I’ll just wind up by reiterating that this is maybe my second-favorite book in this series, maybe even my favorite. I loved it and I’m really glad Sharon wrote it and if you like this series at all, you must pick up Whispering Wood immediately. If you’ve already read it, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Okay, so I really did read this book – the whole thing – on Halloween. I was like, since I haven’t been doing much in October, let’s just take the day off. Get out the good chocolate and read a Halloween-appropriate novel! Or novella. My very rough estimate is that A House With Good Bones is about 70,000 words, so a long novella. Quite a few of the books I picked up at WFC were long novellas, and you know what is convenient to read when I’m busy? Right. Plus, I trust T Kingfisher to give me a good ending, definitely not a horrific or tragic ending. Which, spoiler, she did.
So, how about this story? Have you read this one? I liked it – I like (almost) everything by Ursula Vernon / T Kingfisher, so no surprise there. Not as much as many of her other books, but even so, I liked it. A House with Good Bones has a lot going for it, including –
The title. That’s a great title. It’s so great that I forgive it for not actually having a lot of buried bones under the house or inside the house or in fact anywhere.
An entomologist for the protagonist. This leads to paragraphs such as the following:
So if I wanted to go look up, say, the type specimen for Votox apicedentatus, the toothed earwig, I would have to trawl through all those photos until I actually saw it and hope that its label was still attached and legible in the photo, and also reckon with the fact that it would probably have been labeled Spongovotox apicedentatus because taxonomy is a harsh mistress.
This, naturally, made me laugh.
A young vulture as an important secondary character. I like vultures. I like social species in general and although I already liked vultures, now I like them more. Also, the scene of this one-winged vulture, Hermes, in flight with his other wing made of flame was the most visually wonderful moment in the entire story, even though Vernon/Kingfisher is good with visuals in general. (I hope you don’t mind this mild spoiler, which after all doesn’t give away anything about the plot.)
The protagonist’s mother. The protagonist, Samantha, was okay; the secondary characters were mostly okay; the antagonist was pretty neat; but the mother, Edith, absolutely stole the show. I loved her all the way through the story.
I also think this is interesting from a craft perspective. Why does Edith stand out for me compared to the actual protagonist and all the other secondary characters? I think some of the reasons are easy to spot. Edith is far (far) more multidimensional than any of the other secondary characters; that’s one reason. Also, she’s genuinely a nice person, genuinely self-sacrificing, genuinely overcoming her own fears to cope with a pretty difficult situation. Also, Samantha seems pretty dim for a long time. Edith knows (broadly) what’s going on, while Samantha sits there telling herself this can’t be happening for a really, really long time. I realize the reader has the advantage of knowing that this is a horror novella (horror-lite, don’t hesitate to pick it up even if you aren’t crazy about horror). The protagonist doesn’t have that advantage. Even so, wow, does she try hard to explain away things that are obviously not explicable. Also, I just didn’t particularly like her. I did like Edith.
The underground children. They may not work for everyone – in fact, I’m sure they don’t work for everyone – but I thought they were super creepy.
Things that didn’t work so well for me:
This is a really short book. It’s a long novella, but that means it’s still pretty short. This meant various plot elements didn’t get a lot of development. In particular –
I’ve never in my life seen a story come so close to including a romance only to cut that off short and not go there after all. I’m fine with stories that don’t include any romance (as you know). As it turns out, I’m less fine with it when a story ticks off multiple romance beats, but then stops short of actually including the romance. The ending left me blinking and thinking huh, that’s odd. This is not a great place to leave a reader. It’s also even stranger because after all Vernon knows perfectly well how romance beats work – she’s written those Paladin romances and whatever else. If she’s going to include the first half of the romance, why not go on and include the back half as well? Beats me. It sure makes the story feel incomplete.
1. For horror, The Twisted Ones is much better.
2. For romance, Paladin’s Strength is much better. This is my favorite of the Paladin series, but each of the Paladin stories is a much better romance because it is, you know, actually a complete romance rather than half a romance.
3. But sure, A House With Good Bones is a fun novella to read on Halloween, with the significant plus that a reasonably fast reader can read the whole thing in one evening.
Lots of books are given away at the WFC. Everyone is handed a bookbag at check-in with a dozen or so, donated by publishers and authors. The bags do not all contain the same books, so a trade table also appears, on which you discard any books you’re not interested in, trading them for books you find more appealing. I immediately discarded everything with a horror vibe – well, that’s an overstatement. Most of those that looked like horror. Fortunately, there were others that looked like they’d be more to my personal taste.
For the first time, by the way, I donated books to the bookbags. I dropped fifty copies of TUYO into the bookbags, and was pleased to see almost none on the trade table. I hear some people picked up a copy there, but they must have disappeared as soon as they were put out, because I only ever saw one there and it was gone the next time I looked. This is nice compared to seeing a big stack discarded, although my basic assumption is that when you see a lot of copies discarded, that probably just means a lot were donated. Anyway, after a pause for consideration, I also dropped the entire Death’s Lady trilogy omnibus into the virtual bookbag. I wouldn’t have done that except the first book is so … it’s so … well, it’s not really fantasy, or juuuuust barely fantasy, so I wasn’t sure about just including that one. Though the teaser for the second book makes it clear the story turns into a fantasy. Even so.
This is the first year (as far as I know) that there’s been a virtual bookbag. A good many people donated ebooks because that is, basically, free. Not possible for anything in KU, hence donating that specific trilogy. It will be interesting to see if there’s a rise in sales for Shines Now in the next couple of months. Anyway, I see there are roughly 40 ebooks and a few audiobooks in the bookbag. I’ve downloaded all three audiobooks, two of which are by Brandon Sanderson (!) and one is by someone I’ve never heard of. I’ve also downloaded just six of the audiobooks. Some didn’t look particularly appealing to me, some had a horror vibe, some were short stories or short story collections — I’m largely uninterested in short stories. I’ll send the ebooks to my Kindle app and look at them later.
For now, let’s take a look at the paper-edition books. In random order because I’m just picking them off the stack:
1. The Forever Sea by Joshua Phillip Johnson. Never heard of Johnson; it may be his debut. Laudatory quotes from Mary Robinette Kowal and RF Kuang. Lots of starred reviews. Nice cover, very attractive image.
Sing, memory, the storyteller says, the words low and quiet, a dirge for the darkness. His skin, the few patches of it not covered by patchwork clothing, emanates a faint glow illuminating his steps, and casting shadows of the fractured, broken buildings surrounding him, jagged outlines of the old world.
What do you think? I like it, but this opening implies that the story may be fundamentally a tragedy. Maybe all those stars are because it’s a tragedy and after all tragedy is deep and meaningful. Not sure whether that attitude is customary for SFF reviewers, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me as it’s so pervasive in literary criticism in general. This is the kind of thing where I may look carefully at reviews before I try reading it myself.
2. Whispering Wood by Sharon Shinn
Valentina Serlast spent the entire two hours of the coronation ceremony trying to convince herself that she didn’t hate every other person in attendance. She didn’t succeed particularly well.
This one wasn’t given away in the bookbag; I bought it. I have the others in paper and therefore wanted this one in paper as well, and there it was. Obviously I’ll be reading this one soon! In fact, I’m about a quarter through it as I write this post. Sharon tells me the plot is simple and she’s not sure readers will like that. In my opinion, zero readers are going to pick this book up wanting high tension and excitement. Although some excitement is okay, the whole series is warm and fuzzy. It’s a series that hands you a mug of cocoa and invites you to settle in front of a fireplace and relax. With a series like this, I think a simple plot is not only fine, it’s probably a plus.
3. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
As Sancia Grado lay facedown in the mud, stuffed underneath the wooden deck next to the old stone wall, she reflected that this evening was not going at all as she had wanted.
This opening line is funny! I’m not sure the rest of the first page lives up to this opening, but this is definitely a fun opening sentence.
4. Cassiel’s Servant by Jacqueline Carey
“They’re coming, they’re coming!”
It was my younger brother Mahieu who brought the news, bursting into the manor’s great room, breathless and flushed-cheeked, dried burs and brittle twigs caught in the shearling cuffs and collar of his oversized winter coat. A swirl of yelping hounds accompanied him.
This opening is not particularly engaging for me, though of course the writing is good. But! You know what this book is? This is Kushiel’s Dart, re-told from the pov of the male lead, Joscelin. This is a brilliant idea! Brilliant! I loved Kushiel’s Dart, the lush writing and characterization and depth of worldbuilding. I’m just delighted at the chance to see what Carey does with this story. I ought to re-read Kushiel’s Dart before I read this one. They’re long (long!) books, so it may take a while for me to get to this, but seriously, I’m really intrigued by the whole concept, especially since, like most readers, I liked Joscelin a lot.
5. Pinquickle’s Folly by R A Salvatore. There’s a prologue, which I’m skipping. Here’s the beginning of chapter one.
The two figures moved slowly along the uneven and rough stone stairway that ran up the side of the high hill. Although winter was on in full, the vernal equinox still several weeks away, the sky was cloudless and the air comfortably warm. The smaller of the pair, a young woman named Quauh, her Xoconai face coloring beaming in the brilliant sunlight, hopped lightly from stone to stone, moving as if she had too much energy within her lithe frame to maintain such a casual pace.
I’ve never read anything by Salvatore. I find this opening unengaging. Let me see, why is that? Failure of craft, that’s why.
I realize this is a famous writer who has sold a lot of books. Nevertheless. “winter was on in full” puts two short prepositions in a row, which is iffy. “Within her lithe frame” is the sort of phrase a novice writer uses to describe the protagonist. It’s just amateurish. From a writer who’s written a lot of books, I’m just surprised to see phrases like this. “Face coloring beaming” is frankly terrible. This is why I say that an author can be successful writing books that fall anywhere on the spectrum of “readable” to “excellent.” This book looks just barely readable to me, but here he is, successful.
Also, this is very distant third person. “A young woman named” is about as distant as possible. A much less distancing technique would be “A young woman, Quauh,” and closer still would be “Quauh hopped lightly” and work in the fact that she is a young woman somewhere else. In fact, just using the pronoun “she” and saying she moved “lightly” would take care of that, as the reader would then assume she is a young woman unless otherwise specified. Saying “named” is the narrator speaking almost directly to the reader. I don’t necessarily dislike distant third, but I prefer closer third. But it’s definitely the writing at the sentence level that is a problem for me. If I’d read the first page while at the hotel, I would have discarded this book on the trade table. As it is, I’ll give it away to the local used bookstore.
6. Liberty’s Daughter by Naomi Kritzer
“Show me the sandals first,” I said.
Debbie held out a pair of size eight sparkly high-heeled strappy sandals. I had been knocking on doors all afternoon, hunting for sandals like this for some lady over on Rosa.
“My sister’s name is Lynn Miller, Debbie said. “She’s been missing for three weeks.”
Not particularly interesting, but Naomi Kritzer, so I was happy to pick up this book and will certainly go on with it.
7. A Stranger in Olondria by Sophia Samatar
As I was a stranger in Olondria, I knew nothing of the splendor of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbor City, whose lights and colors spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses.
Lovely from the very first sentence. Also, I’ve wanted to read this book practically forever. Now here it is, on my TBR pile! I’m more pleased about this than about any other book I picked up at WFC. I think I literally gasped when I saw it. Definitely happy to see that some older books appeared as well as brand-new titles.
8. A House with Good Bones by T Kingfisher
There was a vulture on the mailbox of my grandmother’s house.
As omens go, it doesn’t get much more obvious than that.
T Kingfisher is always welcome on my TBR pile. I’ve already read this one, so I’ll post comments about it pretty soon.
9. To Each This World, by Julie E Czerneda
Beth Seeker cupped her hands to shade her eyes. Seared brown desert stretched to wavering distant lines that might have been hills, but you didn’t use Human words for things in the Split.
Human words didn’t belong here.
I have barely read anything by Czerneda, which is weird, as they tend to have a biological emphasis that ought to appeal to me. I think I read something of hers long ago and did not actually like it much, and that’s been inhibiting. This beginning is very strong. It’s intriguing and well written and I like it a lot.
10. Lone Women by Victor Lavalle
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who live with shame, and those who die from it. On Tuesday, Adelaide Henry would’ve called herself the former, but by Wednesday, she wasn’t as sure. If she was trying to live, then why would she be walking through her family’s farmhouse carrying at Atlas jar of gasoline, pouring that gasoline on the kitchen floor, the dining table, dousing the settee in the den?
That’s a good first line, and a stunning second line. Really excellent. This books definitely has a horror vibe, but nevertheless, I’m caught. This is true even though it seems to me that planning to burn down her family’s home does not in any way imply that she wants to die or intends to die or anything like that. Last I noticed, lots of people burn down houses without intending to kill themselves.
11. Gray Warrior by Erin Hunt Rado
Traevis crested the steps of Airlight Manor’s residential wing so swiftly that no one would imagine he hadn’t slept for the past two nights. Of course he was exhausted. Who wouldn’t be after riding from the Central States to the northeastern coast in half the normal time, but what did exhaustion matter? There was a problem here at home that somehow involved his father. How did Traevis know? Because apparently every Mother-Blessed Stone in Airlight Manor had been warning him every Mother-Blessed waking moment with a magical summons that was driving him half-mad.
I bought this self-published book. I liked the cover image, and although the first four sentences aren’t interesting at all, the rest of the paragraph makes up for that.
12. Mystery at Dunvegan Castle by TL Huchu
Boom. Lassie from the slums winds up in a castle. Ain’t that a right old fairy tale? If I didn’t know any better, I’d have done up my dreadlocks, worn a tiara and called myself Princess. Nah, screw that Disney malarky. I’m just loving the Isle of Skye right now. This must be what being on holiday feels like. Though how would I know? Seeing as I’ve never done nothing posh like that.
The writing here seems … self-conscious, I guess? I feel like the author is working too hard and I can see that effort. This pushes me away. I’ll read a little more, but I’m not caught; I’m uninterested and mildly turned off. This is a demonstration of how important voice is in first-person stories; if the voice doesn’t appeal to the reader, that’s it, and I mean appeal immediately, in the first paragraphs. “Appeal” is of course a personal reaction. No doubt other readers would like this opening. Personally, I’ll read the first pages, but if I don’t like it any better after two pages, I’ll just give it away.
13. The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill
The crane came in through the front door like he owned the place. My mother walked slightly behind, her hand buried past the wrist in his feathers.
This is a stunning cover. Lovely.
I would have kept it just for that. This is also a striking beginning. I’m not sure I’ll like this story, but I think I’ll admire it.
14. Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
It was the devil’s hour on Aventum Angelorum, Goetia’s own high holy day and there was a black wind blowing off Tabor’s mine. It slithered down the mountains past the places where the old gods of the continent had once held sway. It rolled through the mining town below called Goetia, snatching hats off heads and shivering shoulders. It wormed its way through the holiday merrymakers on Perdition Street, whispering memories of heavenly war, of bright Lucifer’s doomed defiance, and the sweet aftertaste of rebellion cloyed noses and mouths, making those who breathed it in discontent and covetous.
I’ve heard of Rebecca Roanhorse many times, but never quite gotten around to reading anything of hers. I would have picked up this book just for that reason. This opening is wonderful, though it sure indicates horror or very dark fantasy.
Okay! Fourteen paper-edition books I picked up at WFC. What do you all think? I think … hmm, this is hard. I think #1, #7, #13, and #14 are the best openings – I mean best as in most beautiful. It’s hard to choose among those four, so I’m just listing them in numerical order.
For catchiness, I’d put #3, #8, #10, and #13 up front. I understand why the beginning sentences of the first three are catchy, but I’m not sure why #13 strikes me as catchy as well as beautiful.
For least appealing openings, I’d put #5 way, way out in front, then #12. Everything else has an appealing opening.
For best cover, I like a lot of these, but I’d put #13 in front, followed by #10 and then #1. I’m not sure why #10 appeals to me so much, but it does.
The ones I’m going read first are #8 because it seems very suitable for Halloween (checkmark: did read it) and #2 because it’s by Sharon Shinn (checkmark, reading it now). I notice that #13 appears three times in the rapid, informal ratings I just outlined. It’s also very short, a novella at most. I need to re-read the fairy tale The Crane Wife and then read this story. I will probably do that next.
I’m pretty sure that I have never, not once, ever actually pushed for verbiage in November. That is, I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. I’ve almost always taken a break in the fall because I was writing something in the summer, finishing it up in early fall, and then ready to take a break, slow down, and maybe actually read fiction for a bit.
Well, this year, October was a slow month with a lot in it, whereas November is more relaxed and there’s less going on. Therefore, looks like I”m pretty much doing NaNoWriMo this year. Off to a good start, as of last week. The time change is massively helpful because now, poof! I have an extra hour in the morning. I won’t adjust my personal schedule till Christmas.
I’m writing Silver Circle in a unique way. Unique for me, I mean. I’m writing chapters out of order. Some chapters have a placeholder — a couple sentences that tells me who’s pov it should be in and what should haddraftppen. Then I skip that and write something else. Pros: It’s faster to write it that way. Cons: Wait, has this event happened yet? Or is that still coming up? I mean, yesterday I went back to write chapter 13, when I’ve already written various chapters that come later.
I can see that sometime soon, I’m going to need to go back and re-read this draft. It’s sure to need smoothing out. I’m also bolding words and phrases where I need to look something up, like what city is near this? Does it have an airport? Where do any train routes run near here? Also things to look up from earlier books.
I’m also finishing the Tuyo-world story — the one started in the recent newsletter. I hope you liked the first part of the story! I think it’s going to go to about 10,000 words probably, so it will stretch out over three newsletters. Writing a few hundred words of that is nice to relax.
Also! I’ve actually read a few books! So that’s been nice as well, and comments about those will appear shortly.
Watch how ChatGPT forgets it’s writing fiction. Should I not use terms associated with actual knowledge and consciousness? Probably I shouldn’t. Fine, watch how ChatGPT slides from a narrative style to a nonfiction style and back again:
Once upon a time in a quaint, idyllic village nestled at the foot of rolling green hills, there lived a young boy named Lucas. Lucas was known throughout the village for his boundless curiosity and his deep love for animals. However, what set him apart from the other children was his dream of having a pony.
From the time he was old enough to talk, Lucas had expressed his desire to have a pony of his own. He would spend hours each day in the fields, watching the ponies that grazed there, imagining himself riding on their backs, the wind tousling his hair.
His parents, knowing how much he longed for a pony, would often tell him stories about the magical ponies that roamed the woods on the outskirts of the village. They spoke of ponies with shimmering coats that sparkled like the night sky, and hooves that made music as they danced through the meadows. These stories would light up Lucas’s eyes, filling his heart with hope.
One sunny morning, as Lucas was wandering through the fields, he came across an old, weather-beaten man who was tending to a magnificent, but tired-looking pony. The pony had a gleaming chestnut coat, a wild and fiery mane, and eyes that sparkled with a hint of magic.
Lucas approached the old man, his heart racing with excitement. “Is this your pony, sir?” he asked, unable to hide his wonder.
The old man looked down at Lucas with a kind smile. “Aye, lad, this is Starfire,” he said, patting the pony’s neck. “But he’s no ordinary pony, you see. He’s a guardian of the woods, a protector of nature’s secrets.”
Lucas couldn’t believe his ears. The old man went on to explain that the pony, Starfire, was in need of a new companion, someone pure of heart and filled with love for the world around them. The boy would need to promise to take care of Starfire and protect the natural beauty of the woods.
Lucas, without a moment’s hesitation, pledged his heart and soul to the pony and the forest. He promised to be the best companion Starfire could ever wish for.
The old man nodded in approval, and as if by some unspoken agreement, Starfire lowered his head and nuzzled Lucas, their bond sealed. From that moment on, Lucas and Starfire became inseparable. They explored the forest together, finding hidden waterfalls, enchanted groves, and magical creatures. Lucas learned the secrets of the woods and how to care for the land.
Lucas’s love for Starfire and the woods was contagious. Soon, others in the village joined them, helping to protect the environment, and the once-threatened forest thrived under their care.
As the years passed, Lucas and Starfire grew up together, their bond unbreakable. And even when Lucas was no longer a young boy, the spirit of adventure, the love for his faithful pony, and the beauty of the forest remained a cherished part of his life. The legend of the boy and his guardian pony, Starfire, lived on in the village, a testament to the power of love, friendship, and a deep connection with nature.
[Tell me more about the magical creatures in the forest.] X
[What adventures did Lucas and Starfire have?]
The forest where Lucas and Starfire roamed was a place of enchantment, and it was home to a variety of magical creatures that existed harmoniously among the trees and meadows. Here are a few of the most wondrous beings that inhabited this mystical woodland:
- Faeries: Tiny, ethereal beings with delicate wings, faeries flitted about the forest, leaving trails of sparkling dust in their wake. They were guardians of the flowers, ensuring they bloomed in vibrant colors and with extraordinary fragrances. Lucas often heard their laughter as they played among the blossoms.
- Wood Nymphs: These graceful, nature-loving spirits resided within the trees. They were known to have the power to heal the wounded and soothe the ailing. When Lucas or Starfire ever had a scrape or ailment, a gentle touch from a wood nymph would bring swift relief.
- Talking Animals: Within the depths of the forest, a special grove was home to animals with the ability to speak. Squirrels, rabbits, and birds conversed with Lucas and shared their wisdom. They told tales of ancient forest lore, helping him understand the delicate balance of nature.
- Will-o’-the-Wisps: These mysterious orbs of light guided Lucas and Starfire through the darkest parts of the forest. They danced through the night, illuminating the path and leading the way to hidden treasures and secret clearings.
- Eldertrees: Towering ancient trees with gnarled roots and wise, old faces etched into their bark, the Eldertrees were the forest’s historians. They could recall the history of the woods, telling stories of generations past and the struggles and triumphs of the forest.
- Unicorns: Rare and majestic, unicorns were seldom seen but their presence was always felt. These gentle creatures, with their shimmering coats and single twisted horns, brought an aura of purity and magic to the forest. It was said that encountering a unicorn brought good fortune and protection.
- Gnomes and Elves: Hidden in the nooks and crannies of the forest, gnomes and elves worked tirelessly to maintain the balance of the natural world. They were skilled in creating intricate treehouses, bridges, and maintaining the harmony of the forest’s ecosystem.
- The Spirit of the Stream: A shimmering and fluid entity that lived in the crystal-clear stream that wound its way through the forest. The Spirit of the Stream had the power to cleanse and purify, not only the water but also the spirits of those who ventured near.
Each of these magical creatures contributed to the enchantment and vitality of the forest. Lucas and Starfire cherished their encounters with these beings, learning from them and ensuring the forest remained a haven for all creatures, magical and mundane alike. It was a place where dreams came true, where the beauty of nature was celebrated, and where the extraordinary thrived in harmony with the ordinary.
Besides turning into a list, what do you notice? The trite ideas? The bland style? Both? If someone turned in a story like this in a creative writing class, minus the list of magical creatures, would you peg it as 100% generated text? Because it is 100% generated text.
If I fed ChatGPT the Tuyo novels, do you think it might be able to write something in the right style? Or would it continue to produce bland prose expressing banal, hackneyed ideas? I don’t plan to do that, so we will not find out. I just wonder. Here’s what we get when I tell Chat GPT to write something in the style of Rex Stout:
As the evening sun dipped below the Manhattan skyline, its fading rays cast long shadows in Nero Wolfe’s opulent brownstone. The scent of orchids permeated the room, mingling with the subtle aroma of cigar smoke. Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s trusted assistant and chronicler of events, sat at his desk, his typewriter poised for the dictation that would soon begin.
Wolfe, the corpulent and brilliant detective, reclined in his oversized chair, his eyes half-lidded as he savored the last draw from his custom-made Montenegro cigar. With meticulous precision, he reached for his specially crafted orchid stand, admiring the rare blooms that adorned it. His hands, thick and well-manicured, bore the knowledge of countless cases, each petal whispering secrets to him. [I think ChatGPT got lost right here.]
“Archie,” Wolfe rumbled, his voice rich and commanding, “I trust you’ve completed your due diligence regarding our current matter. The client, as you are aware, is a man of dubious repute.”
Archie nodded, his quick wit and sharper tongue ready for the exchange. “Indeed, Nero, our client hails from the shadowy corridors of power, a man with secrets he’d like to keep buried in the depths of the East River.” [Yeah, that does not sound a bit like Archie.]
Wolfe’s lips curled into a rare smile, revealing a hint of his insatiable appetite for intrigue. “That is precisely why he sought my services, Archie. He knows I am averse to idle chatter and possess an unerring ability to unearth the truth, no matter how well it is hidden.” [Problem here: Wolf’s appetite for intrigue is highly satiable.]
The detective shifted in his chair, the faintest hint of impatience in his movements. “Proceed, Archie, and recount the facts as you have gathered them. We must dissect this puzzle and bring the vermin to light.” [Actual syntax error: should not be in a new paragraph.]
With nimble fingers dancing across the keys of his typewriter [terrible!], Archie began to craft the narrative, recounting the tangled web of deceit, greed, and betrayal that had ensnared their latest client. In that dimly lit room, surrounded by orchids and the inimitable presence of Nero Wolfe, the stage was set for yet another intricate dance of deduction and revelation.
As Archie’s typewriter keys tapped out the story, he couldn’t help but wonder at the enigmatic genius of his boss. Nero Wolfe was no ordinary detective, and their investigations were never mundane. They were journeys through the labyrinthine corridors of human nature, each case a tantalizing enigma begging to be unraveled by the indomitable mind of the incomparable Nero Wolfe.
Did you know there is no country in Africa that starts with the letter “K”?
Yes, that’s correct! While there are 54 recognized countries in Africa, none of them begin with the letter “K”. The closest is Kenya, which starts with a “K” sound, but is actually spelled with a “K” sound. It’s always interesting to learn new trivia facts like this.
There are, obviously, lots and lots of wrong answers generated by AI. Somehow the one above struck me as especially funny.
There was a panel about AI at the World Fantasy Convention. I went to that panel, and as a result, I finally gave in and made an account with ChatGPT so I could play with it properly. I’ll be posting about stuff having to do with ChatGPT now and then. I will start with this:
So, ChatGPT, write a summary of Rachel Neumeier’s book Tuyo.
“Tuyo” is a fantasy novel by Rachel Neumeier that tells the story of a young prince named Tuyo, who is the last surviving member of the royal family of a conquered kingdom. After his homeland is seized by a ruthless conqueror, Tuyo escapes and seeks refuge in the neighboring kingdom. There, he must navigate the challenges of a new and unfamiliar culture, all while struggling with the loss of his family and his determination to reclaim his kingdom.
As Tuyo adapts to his new life, he befriends a powerful and enigmatic mage named Rosamari, who becomes his mentor and protector. Together, they uncover secrets about Tuyo’s past and the magical abilities he possesses. Tuyo’s journey is one of self-discovery, as he grapples with his destiny, battles against dark forces, and seeks to restore his kingdom.
The novel “Tuyo” is a tale of adventure, magic, and self-discovery, set against a richly crafted fantasy world. It explores themes of resilience, the bonds of friendship, and the pursuit of justice as the protagonist strives to reclaim his homeland from those who have taken it.
Goodness. Well, children, if you want a plot summary of some book in order to write a book report for your teacher, I must disrecommend using ChatGPT for that purpose.
In case you’re curious, the winners of the WF Aware are:
- WINNER: Saint Death’s Daughter, C.S.E. Cooney
Congratulations to Clair Cooney! She read a bit from the sequel at WFC, and I liked the story and REALLY liked her energy during the reading. Given that some of you gave a thumbs up to this book, I guess I’ll pick up a copy. Oh, look, the publisher had the basic good sense to drop the price to $0.99. That’s a great idea. I’m sure I’m not the only one picking up a copy this week. If you’re interested, here’s the description:
Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves. When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat’s ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation’s future into doubt. Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.
- WINNER: Pomegranates, Priya Sharma
Here’s the discription:
Pomegranates is a dystopian tale, where climate change is an all-too-real backdrop to the events of the novella. Persephone is in the Underworld, relating her family’s history to a human who’s found his way there. As events unfold, and we see the horror her anger has unleashed on the world, we’re drawn deeper and deeper into the heart of this amazing story. The author has drawn a vivid picture of the world’s decay set against the backdrop of the repercussions of a dysfunctional family. And what a family it is―the gods themselves, bringing destruction on us all.
AAGH NO RUN AWAY. Sorry, but there is absolutely no way I would read this. If this were the last novella on Earth, I would write something else rather than read this. I mean, congratulations, I guess, but no.
And I like the Persephone myth too. But definitely not this iteration.
Best Short Fiction
- WINNER: “Incident at Bear Creek Lodge”, Tananarive Due (Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology)
Oh, this is careless! The description refers to this anthology as Other Fears, not by the actual title on the cover, which is Other Terrors. Ouch! Not a good look for the publisher. I expect they’ll fix it eventually, but ouch. It’s a horror anthology, as one would expect. Not interested. But if you are, here’s a brief review:
The one I absolutely adore, admire, envy and will be dreaming about is “Incident at Bear Creek Lodge” by Tananarive Due, which closes out the collection with the period tale of a young Miami boy traveling to the lodge of his faded-celebrity grandmother, a terrible person. Over the course of the story he finds out, without quite understanding, what bitter pill exists in her past, and at the end there is a manifestation of something else horrific, that I suspect may baffle some readers: i.e., where the hell does this thing come from, and what does it have to do with all that came before? I reply that what it is a rather ingenious, and hellacious, metaphor for the devil’s bargain the grandmother has made, and the profit she sought for the deal; and Due could have included a page or two of rancid exposition explaining exactly what she sought to say with it, but I much prefer to have processed her point the way she wanted to, with the last images of the narrative reverberating my head. It is the best story in the collection, and I happily report that this is saying a whole lot.