Friday, February 25, 2011

snow and sociability

A lost work by Jane Austen? No, the last week-and-a-bit here.
Mark has been away in Arizona, at the semi-disastrous Estrella War, and I've been here, cleaning and tidying the house (to my specs, which may not be universally accepted) followed by spreading my stuff around on the excavated horizontal surfaces. Sometimes I danced around the house singing 'Mine, mine, mine.'
I watched--while rowing--How to Train Your Dragon, which I enjoyed greatly. Mostly I've been watching videocassettes with subtitles, because the rowing machine is kind of noisy, and I'm usually rowing early in the morning, when I don't want to turn the sound up to bellowing level. Previously I've watched Comet, Butterfly and Sword; Lady Hermit; Legend of Zu; Zu Warriors; The Crimson Charm; Magnificent Swordsman (gave up on that one). How to Train Your Dragon made for a change of pace and genre.
That was not the sociable part though. The sociable part was last weekend, when I had visitors, yes. Thursday, our friends Paul and Shona came for dinner, even with the warning that I was only making tuna casserole (comfort food). Friday, Stephen was in town to attend a concert and spent the night here. Saturday and Sunday, my friends Lynne and Tony came over from Seattle, and we had dinner at the Won Ton Noodle House (yes, that's its real name) and lunch the next day at the Penny Farthing, and talked a lot, about writing and reading and work and collecting and stuff. I got to talk about my writing! and believe that the other people were interested and not just being polite! The food was terrific too--I'm astonished I've gone so long not knowing how good the Won Ton Noodle House was. I must make up for lost time.
I know I'm very lucky in having online friends to whom I can go on about writing & about my books. But there's still something special about being able to talk to someone face to face--and it is lovely for the ego to talk about my own characters and stories more than about the craft of writing. Though I suppose doing it regularly would result in unsightly bloating of the ego.

Yes, it has SNOWED in Victoria and the Island generally, between 5 and 20 cm on Wednesday. When I got up, 6ish, there was only a little, but it came down hard, and by the time I set out to work I'd had to shovel the front walk and sidewalk twice. I did the neighbours on each side as well, because it's always a toss-up whether someone in Victoria even owns a snowshovel.
So gorgeous, though. Until later in the day there was no wind, so the tree branches were all laid in with white, the grey and black underlying it like shadows. Except for ruts in the road and the shoveled walks, the snow was smooth as if it had been sanded down. Every now and then a powdering would fall from the trees or roof-edges, and spread itself out, vanishing. Only later did clumps fall and leave their ghost-tracks.
I made a half-hearted attempt to bicycle, but that didn't work at all. The slush built up between tire and fender, and the ruts in the road sent me slithering sideways. So I walked to the bus stop and waited nearly half an hour, during which time about 5 buses should have gone by, but didn't (2 went by in the opposite direction) and all the people who were waiting when I arrived gave up and went home. I might have been able to walk most of the way to work in that time, but given how many sidewalks weren't shoveled, it might have been difficult.
Wednesday was the day Mark got back, so on his return from the desert he was greeted by snow.
The cat is confused by the whole business. Last night she was so whiny about wanting to go outside, then refusing it when the door opened onto a world of white, that I tossed her out into the snow, where she remained, bleating and unmoving, until making a sudden astounding leap back through the door, without touching the snow in between.
Cat-butt-print shown below:

Monday, February 21, 2011

in the continuing series

Of things I said I'd blog about later: Notes from Mary Robinette Kowal's talk on Readings, given at the World Fantasy Convention 2010.

Usually, it seems, this talk has a much longer time-slot, so she was rushing and hitting the high points, with an invitation to join her in the bar afterwards for a more detailed discussion. Unfortunately I wasn't able to follow the mass that went on to do that, so this is only what was said in the time allotted. Also, only what would fit on the back of my namecard, since somehow I did not have a notebook with me (this is really unusual - I don't know how I wound up walking around without a notebook. Next I will not have a book to read, and then you can take me away raving.)

So, the high points, or what I wrote down of them.
Be loud: this means not yelling but projecting. You don't want to wreck your voice, so use what you learnt in choir or drama class, sit or stand up straight and give your lungs room to fill. Keep your head up and aim for the back row (My mum used to call this 'the deaf old lady in the back row.)
Slow down. You want to run at about 150 words per minute (this is the recommended rate for recording audiobooks). She pointed out she was being a poor example, because she was rattling along talking fast to cram as much of the content in as possible. Practice reading your selection aloud, and clock yourself to make sure you're not speeding up.
Tell the story. Practice, read it aloud beforehand and get familiar with it. As much as possible, tell it without reference to the page, and look at your audience. Make eye contact and watch their reactions.

Choosing which piece to read:
It should be self-contained, without requiring a lot of explanation beforehand or during, and have some sort of closure to tie it off.
It should have a small cast, so that you don't have many character voices or presentations to keep distinct.
It should suit your voice.
It should lend itself to being read aloud, with onomatopoeia and strong rhythm to the sentences. (think Just-so Stories).

The narrator is a character, whether named as one or not, and has to be distinct from the other characters. The narrator is the gateway, and the narrator's attitude determines the audience's interaction with the character. Decide how to play the narrator.
Note the key words in each sentence, give them weight.
If the selection is first person, narrator shouldn't be too different (gender, age) from you, or audience will be distracted & maybe confused.

To distinguish characters, use:
Pitch--learn your pitch by humming high to low
Placement--voice is different when it resonates in back or front of mouth, chest, sinus, movement of soft palate
Pacing--give characters different speeds of speaking (remember to keep own speed down)
Accent--if you are using one, make sure it's accurate, better to use rhythm, pacing & inflections
Attitude--if you speak with a smile, or as if you're angry, the same words sound different

She talked briefly about microphones, but I didn't make notes on that, only mentally resolved to avoid the damn things. If I can teach an Ithra class without a mike, I ought to be able to read aloud without one--I doubt the audience would be any bigger, and probably smaller.

Hmm, that's kind of skimpy compared to how it looked in rough notes. So, my review, then?
Well, it's always worth while watching Mary Robinette Kowal. I would probably attend a panel on, um, ichthyology if she was the speaker, because she's just that lively and engaging. Also she would give all the fish different voices and gestures.

Anyway, with that in recent memory, I paid close attention to Robert Lloyd Parry's performance of M. R. James's ghost stories in November (a run of three-name names - is it significant?) as mentioned here.
He was playing the narrator - Montague Rhodes James, a Cambridge don, and in the second story, the main character was also an academic, and the introductory part of the story was banter at a college dinner, so the characters had similar accents and to some extent similar delivery.
He dealt with this by using posture and body language - it was clear that one character was seated and looking up, and the other standing, looking down & interrupting the first one's meal. The seated character (our MC) he gave a slightly querulous, nasal tone, and when the bluff old soldier appeared, he got a lower in-the-chest voice and a slower speech.
The first story had a historical setting, with characters of different classes, and he kept with James's somewhat caricatured country bumpkin form for the servant, lengthening his vowels and speaking slowly. The squire had a more peremptory pace, and the vicar slower but higher and quieter.
What impressed me was how willing he was to employ movement--even though he mostly stayed seated--and to convey fear (by breathing and pitch mostly) which I think I would be very self-conscious about doing.
And of course I was massively impressed that he was doing it all by memory, with no reference to a text. Tell the story indeed.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I am a hamster

Only less cute. Just the puffy-faced, snuffling, huddled-amidst-crumpled-paper features, the paper being kleenex rather than the crumpled paper balls that iconically signify the trials of literary creation. (tangent: what will be used to signify false starts now that paper is so rarely required for them?)
Yes, I still have the horrid cold. At least today is sunny and clear, unlike the streaming rain of yesterday. Also, last night, after I got up to clean up the cat puke, I dreamt I was on a double-decker bus with Neil Gaiman.
So things balance out, I suppose.

I meant to do a post about things I don't like reading in fantasy: monocultural worlds. But I will use the horrid cold as an excuse to postpone that, and instead refer you to Zoe's excellent post on building multicultural worlds here.
And to the works of the late (and much-missed) Jo Clayton, most especially her three Wild Magic books.
And to the works of Martha Wells, especially City of Bones and Wheel of the Infinite. There's also a moment in The Wizard Hunters where someone from a culture that has no representational art (only pattern making) encounters a trompe l'oeil painting and is fascinated by the idea of painting that looks like real things, which made me-the-reader bounce happily.
And obviously to N. K. Jemisin and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequel The Broken Kingdoms.
And to Alaya Dawn Johnson's books Racing the Dark and The Burning City. Which I want to post a proper review of, when my head contains more braincells than mucus. Short form--Racing the Dark does have some first-novel markers (I don't hate adverbs, but I do notice them) but damn! the world building and the non-generic settings and the heart-wrenching turns of the story and the characters and ... oooh.
And, natch, a pointer to Terri-Lynne DeFino and her first novel Finder, set in a big sprawly fantasy world that (yay!) is not Northern Europe with jumbled place-names.
There are more, but they must wait until the proper thoughtful analytic post. Suggestions welcome....

Thursday, February 10, 2011

mostly medieval, otherwise history

Last Saturday was the University's Medieval Seminar, run by Continuing Studies. This year the topic was especially interesting (to me) Medieval Lives.
The talks were as follows:
9:00 am Welcome and Opening Remarks
9:10 am Introduction, Dr. Marcus Milwright
9:30 am Everyday Life in Scotland during the Viking Age, Dr. Erin McGuire
10:10 am break
10:45 am Abelard and Heloise: Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Dr. Iain Higgins
11:30 am lunch and film presentation
12:45 pm Medieval Map Project presentation
1:00 pm Byzantine Lives Under Siege, Dr. Evanthia Baboula
1:45 pm The Caliph al-Muqtadir (908-32) and the Fall of the Abbasid Empire, Dr.
Hugh Kennedy
2:45 pm break
3:15 pm Christine de Pizan, the first Man of Letters, Dr. Helene Cazes
3:45 pm Closing Remarks

So overall, pretty cool. Erin kept her audience on their toes by starting with questions to them, and asking them to come up with possible explanations for unexpected grave finds and so on. The Christine de Pizan talk ran out of time before it ran out of interest, which is better than the alternative, but frustrating still.

Above, in a pic not taken by me (I'll check and get the credit right later) you can see the site and the setup, during the talks, while things are quiet. Between lectures, we're 'on', and chatting with the attendees while they get their coffee and biscotti. But during the talks, we may attend them or do other things. In the photo I was losing at checkers to a 7 yr old, while his sister walked the labyrinth. (I evened the score later at 9 man's morris.) The lady on the right is warping a tablet-weaving loom, the lady in dark blue is embroidering, and the lady in light blue is playing a harp
Also, yes, I chose this picture to show off the labyrinth and painted floor and backdrops that I painted my own self. Because I think they are pretty cool, actually.

What I should have been doing was getting further ahead with calligraphing the contract indentures for my apprentice-to-be, Deirdre, whom I'll be taking at the end of the month. Writing out two copies of a longish contract, to be cut apart in a sawtooth pattern (the indenting that makes it indentures, in case you wondered) isn't done in one hour or even two. (I'm hoping to get it finished this weekend.)
But I flatter myself that I was still doing something useful, in keeping the kids amused. We also had a non-rules-based foot ball game with the leather-stuffed ball, down past the catering tables and through the empty part of the hallway.

On Wednesday Mark left for the Estrella event in Arizona, with the van, so I am non-vehicular for a couple of weeks, and forced to get my own dinners. I took today as vacation so I could get started on straightening up & tidying the house--after us getting everything medieval out for the display, and then everything needed for a week's medieval camping, the house was in some disarray. (Shall I admit it? I hadn't finished boxing up the Christmas decorations.)
Today was thus spent moving things around and establishing my laptop and immediate-research books on the kitchen table, next to the woodstove; clearing off surfaces; dusting; sweeping; stacking books; and coming down with a streaming headcold that I finally have to admit was not just a response to the dust kicked up by previous activities.

Writing-related, Cost of Silver: I'd reduced the 20-year span of happiness between major threats to 5 years, and am now reducing it by another year or so, by sending Griffin off to war. The Bishops' Wars, in Scotland, so as to include gritty uncomfortable historical detail and increase wordcount.
Originally, after being turned down by apprentice-girl Alice, Griffin was to find comfort and eventual love with Nan Moray (older than him OMG!!!). In revision, he's going to be a sullen overdramatic young idiot and respond to being turned down by going to 'list for a soldier. So a few thousand words of enduring hardships, seeing nasty things happen, engaging in some himself, staying alive, and coming back sadder & wiser and all, then finding comfort and love with Nan. Must figure out which historical figures he'll encounter.

Do I sound a titch cynical? this is because I've been reading Rebels and Traitors, by Lindsey Davis, a novel set in (shoehorned into?) an exhaustively detailed history of Civil War England and the fall of Charles I.
I should say first that it's well written and often engaging, and Davis knows the times and events surpassingly well. Too well, perhaps, and as someone who loves the details herself, I think I can identify when someone has given in to including something because it is just that cool, regardless of whether it assists the story or characterisation.
This would be a pretty good, fast-moving, eventful novel, if you stripped out the irrelevant detail. This would be a fascinating, detailed 'narrative non-fiction' history if you stripped out the invented characters and plot. But as it is, you have both, for 742 pages, and you may be constantly shifting mental gears between fiction and non-fiction--not to mention keeping track of rather a lot of invented characters and rather a lot of historical ones who have walk-ons to be name-checked but don't affect the plot.
On p.14, I encountered this sentence: 'To set the moment in context, that year of 1634 would see the notorious witchcraft trials at Loudon, the first meeting of the Academie francaise, the opening of the Covent Garden piazza in London, and the charter for the Oxford University Press.'
In case you're wondering, none of those have so far appeared in the actual narrative. Then the exposition continues for a page and 2/3ds, bringing us up to date with events in the Americas, continental Europe, and Wales.
I'm not sure I can pull this off, myself.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

mixed bag

Bluebeard Contented is up at Cabinet des Fees - yay! This one was workshopped at Worldcon and beta-read by a couple of writer-friends before I finally sent it in. CdF was the first and only market I thought of for the Perrault-with-a-twist version.

To balance that, the first rejections of the year, one from Weird Tales
Thanks so much for submitting your piece to the One-Minute Weird Tales. We have had an overwhelming positive response! Alas, we do not have the room for all the wonderful stories submitted so must pass on this one. Again, we thank you for thinking of Weird Tales.

And one from ASIM
Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways.

Sadly, we find that we can't use your submission at this stage.

Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future.

See our Hints and Tips page:

both form. Which reminds me that I need to start a new Rejection Pledge!