Sell it!

Fancy wine descriptions can make you feel more emotional when you drink

That’s the conclusion of a recent study from the University of Adelaide. This immediately brought to mind Mary Robinette Kowal’s short story “Waiting for Rain”, which deals heavily with the wine industry and includes such wine descriptions as section-bumps.

Finding the right balance so that description doesn’t become purple prose can be a little tricky–as the article suggests–but perhaps it’s more worth trying for than I previously thought.

The impossible woman

It’s no secret by now that I find Camille Paglia fascinating. By all modern media standards she shouldn’t exist. But every time I read either an article by her or an interview with her I learn something, even if I don’t always agree with her. But perhaps that’s her appeal: where we disagree it seems she disagrees thoughtfully and respectfully. She can be strong in her denouncements, but not strident, and the fact that she holds views all across the political spectrum only lends to her credibility.

Perhaps I’m only seeing what I want to see, but she seems like someone with whom, even if you disagree, could have a fascinating and thought-provoking conversation. I would love to have the chance to validate that view sometime.

The latest piece of evidence can be found here: On Trump, Democrats, Transgenderism, and Islamist Terror

Determination

And to think I get frustrated when my writing just isn’t coming out quite right today. I’m a little late to the party, probably, but this young woman’s determination and adaptability is inspirational.

Back from Futurescapes

I’ve never been to a writers workshop before. Symposiums and conferences, yes, but nothing like Futurescapes. This workshop was designed to bring 45-50 aspiring writers with solid writing skills together and pair them with professionals in the field who could help foster their skills and help them get to “the next level”. That it brought us all together at Sundance Mountain Resort in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah was just a bonus.

When we arrived we were sorted (unfortunately not by magic hat) into two different session groups. We would have two sessions with our A group and two with our B group, spread out over the three days. In my case there was only one other writer that was in both of my groups.

The format of each session was somewhat up to the professional facilitating each group, but the basic structure was that we would each take turns with our chosen selection, getting feedback from each participant and more extensive feedback from the professional.

This format provided some interesting opportunities. My A group met on the first afternoon, and wouldn’t meet again until the following afternoon. My B group met on the morning of the next day, in between the two A group sessions, and then met again on the last morning. I workshopped my opening chapter in my A group and got some good feedback. In some groups the facilitator would ask the participants to revise their work and bring back those revisions for our next session. Ours didn’t; we could bring whatever we wanted for the next session.

That proved advantageous for me. I brought in a different scene from later in the book where I introduce another character. The facilitator immediately declared the second scene should be the starting scene of the novel. I wasn’t sure about that, but I was willing to entertain the idea. But he also said that it didn’t need to be changed, either, even though the first half of the scene was essentially the character’s ruminations on her life. I wasn’t sure about that either.

I still had one more session with my B group, so I took that second scene there, too, though I did revise other aspects of it based on other feedback I received from my A group. I figured a second opinion would be good. My B group confirmed that the second scene was the better scene to start with (and in general), but disagreed that it could keep the info-dump. The facilitator there recommended I find ways to pump up the action and mix the information into that and other scenes as appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t normally just take every piece of advice as gospel truth. But it is more difficult to argue with professionals, and in most cases their suggestions immediately sparked “ah-ha” moments in my brain. Especially my B facilitator. She was awesome at digging into my world-building and ferreting out errors and lack of depth. Every question set of epiphanic explosions in my mind, and I couldn’t write notes fast enough.

My main hope is that, having seen her do it, I can figure out how to do it for myself in the future. The ideas her ideas sparked have me so darn excited for what my novel could be that I’m having very little problem “killing my darlings” in a work that has remained largely static for over two years.

Another welcome outcome is getting an indication of what I do well, sometimes unintentionally. I had a throw-away character in my first scene, and somehow managed to make both groups fall in love with her in three sentences. Some were quite irritated with me when I told them she doesn’t even show up any more. So it would seem I do better at characterization than I thought I did. Opening lines, apparently, are another strength.

And at least a few in my groups indicated that my description isn’t as barren as I thought–so long as I actually supply some. I did have a problem with people thinking my duel scene took place in the lobby of the concert hall instead of the street outside, even though I’d explicitly said I’d moved the characters outside. I think I needed to describe the street for them before they would fully catch it. My bad–and a lesson learned, hopefully.

It’s a little more difficult to know what I can deduce from what elements people didn’t comment on. As a reader there’s things you don’t mention because they’re solid enough there’s really nothing to say, but there are also times when you don’t say anything because you don’t even know where to begin. But also I noticed that people, in spite of themselves, tend to focus mostly on the things that don’t work. So I’m going to move forward under the conclusion that if they didn’t mention it, it’s at least okay. Besides, I’ve got enough to work on as is.

Another real positive for me was meeting so many serious and solid writers. I have no trouble admitting that the Italian gentleman in my B group is a better writer than I am–even in his second language. He also come across as an open and honest guy, so his feedback was especially meaningful.

But I met a lot of people who I now hope I can lean on for ongoing feedback–and vice versa. The quality of their writing and the accuracy of their feedback during the workshop has earned my trust to where I would gladly work with them again. I hope I was as helpful to them. I admit I didn’t start out as a very effective critic, but thanks to the examples of many in my groups, coupled with the solicited advice of several, I think I got better at it.

It’s the day after now when I’m writing this, and I’m in withdrawal. I miss “My People”. We only really spent two full days together, but it was an intense experience. I had no idea it would affect me this much. I’m feeling a little lost today, and my brain is having difficulty switching back over to work mode. It keeps wanting to explore down the new paths opened up during the workshop.

And even though I’m eager to write, I can’t yet. The workshop was like the super-laser in Rogue One, or perhaps more appropriately the Genesis Device in Star Trek II. The initial shot has hit, but the explosion is still spreading outward from the impact, completely rearranging everything as it goes. My novel is going to change dramatically over the next six months.

And it’s going to be awesome! If I can just figure out how to get out of the way and let it be so.

Fun with architecture

While taking an online Java course I was introduced to this gem:

This is the Longeberger Basket Company’s headquarters. The teacher of my online course held this up as an example of design gone awry and claimed he’d never want to work there.

I have to disagree. The potential for “our company is going to heck in a handbasket” jokes is just to good to miss.

Okay, I’d like to work there for a week. Tops.

I’ll bet they have awesome company picnics, though. And their CEO really has a handle on things, though I’ve heard he’s a real basket-case. And the entire company was up in arms over Hillary’s “Basket of Deplorables” comment.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve just killed any chance I ever had to working for Longeberger Basket. Awesome landscaping, though! It would be a beautiful place to work.

Luddite trolls

Last night my wife and I were out walking the dog when someone driving past yelled something at us and flipped us off. I don’t recall what he said, but it was only to get our attention. There was no indication that there was a reason for his behavior, only that we were two strangers who just happened to be nearby when he got bored. And, evidently, what he finds entertaining is trying to make random people feel bad.

The incident would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad. I could only shake my head and think, “Your mother must be SO proud.”

It occurs to me, however, that what we witnessed was a reminder of life before the Internet. The Internet did not invent trolls. Clearly they’ve been around far longer than the epithet “troll”. They’ve likely existed as long as there have been ways for people to say or do nasty things to people while either preserving their anonymity or escaping quickly enough to avoid consequences. I can imagine medieval trolls galloping by pedestrians on horses and screaming, “Is that thy face or thy buttocks? Which way doest thou walk?”, then continuing onward before their target can respond.

Or ancient Mesopotamians secretly leaving clay tablets in view in the public square inscribed with “Samok secretly worships Ashtaroth and smells like three-week-old goat’s milk!”

It all just goes to show that technological advancement has not made us any wiser, nor any more productive in our boredom. It just opens up new avenues for the same old debased behaviors.

Book review: Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m a fan of Mary Robinette Kowal. Her books are fun, too. Her latest is “Ghost Talkers”, an alternate history set in France during World War One. Ginger Stuyvesant is an American medium helping the British Army by gathering intelligence from the dead. British soldiers have been conditioned to “report in” when they die in order to provide information that might prove beneficial.

The British have gone to great lengths to keep this unique program under wraps, but it now appears the Germans have discovered what they’re doing, and Ginger and all the other mediums may be in serious danger. Then her fiancé is murdered while investigating a possible traitor, and Ginger finds herself in a desperate race to find the traitor before more people she cares about are killed.

Kowal loves history and research. You see this in her “Glamourist Histories” series. You see it in many of her short stories. She also loves creating strong yet realistic female protagonists. “Ghost Talkers” fulfills all expectations in both areas. We also get to experience the horror of World War One, from relative safety behind the lines to the cold, muddy, brutal front. We get to see brave men and women doing their inconceivable duty. There are no superheroes here–just normal people doing extraordinary things because that’s what they have to do.

Kowal writes speculative fiction, but I got the distinct feeling she could have dropped the spiritualistic aspects and given us an equally compelling historical fiction had she chosen. And I’ve have read it just as gladly. The spiritualistic aspect provides the backbone of the story, but her characters, her settings, and her attention to detail make the story worth reading.

I do wish I could have read the ending in a single go instead of sneaking a few minutes here and there as it ended up. I’m uncertain if it was her ending being a little loose or my reading of it being too disjointed from continually dropping and picking up the threads again. The important elements were resolved admirably, but a few things seemed a little forced. It was well worth it, regardless. It was a fun escape.

I think there’s material here for at least another novel or two, but I suspect this is a one-off. Either way, I’ll more than likely be in line to pick up whatever she writes next. She’s a fun read.