Monday, June 30, 2008

New books (and a CD)

I had an Amazon gift certificate, so I just received two books that I'm looking forward to reading: Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place and Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret History of Moscow. For years I've listed Beagle as a favorite author, based on The Last Unicorn and The Innkeeper's Song primarily, but I hadn't read this, which I know some consider his best. And I've been hearing good things about Sedia's book. I may be saving them until our next book club meeting, because it's my turn to bring a book, and I suspect either would be an acceptable suggestion.

I also got a CD I've been keeping an eye out for years--John Kay's Heretics & Privateers. When I was living in West Michigan, there was an independent, non-commercial radio station that played an incredibly diverse mix of music, but at the time leaning toward folk/singer-songwriter-type music (with a fair amount of jazz and blues as well). John Kay was the singer for Steppenwolf (well before my time...), but solo he sings a sort of folk-blues. The title track begins:
Work and worry's all she's known
Lived golden rule since the day she was born
Through all these troubled years
She raised her family, there was no time for tears
She's done her best, the kids are grown
She prayed each day for a life of her own
Last night she disappeared
She's joined another tribe, the heretics and privateers.
And shortly after that is this cutting line that I love, "God bless the company / for two weeks severance pay."

I've never found another station that plays this music--it's too recent (early aughts) for classic rock-type stations but too much like older music to find a comfortable home on other stations. I imagine it had some airplay on NPR and similar stations at the time, but if so it's not one I've heard since moving away from Grand Rapids. So, thanks WYCE.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A chance to breathe

Last two weeks have been rather crazy with first my in-laws and then my parents out to visit the baby, and on top of that, everything wrapping up with my wife for residency. It's always great to see family and spend time with them, but it can also be quite stressful with all the planning and such that goes along with it. So I didn't really try to do any blogging with everything else going on.

The next few weeks, though, should be good for writing (and blogging?)--my wife has a few weeks before she starts her new job, so we're both home with the kids, and we have no intention of any big trips anywhere or anything that requires lots of planning and juggling (though we may consider doing some little things to take advantage of that time off).

So big congrats, of course, to my wife for graduating. For the past three years, federal law has required that she never work more than 30 hours in a row and that her weeks on average don't go over 80 hours of work...and there were certainly times when a given week or a given shift pushed against those limits. So it'll be nice to have a more sane schedule, even after those weeks off are over.

More on writing-related and other stuff in future posts.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New story

I wrote a new story the other day, completely unrelated to my serial project. It's just a bit of flash, something I wrote almost entirely on notecards as I was walking around. There was a discussion on a writers' forum about dramatic monologues, so I decided to give one a try (not the first one I've done, now that I think of it, since I did one that's similar in some ways about a year and a half ago--but that one was more whimsical and light than this one).

When I think of dramatic monologues, I think of Browning's "My Last Duchess," so that was my jumping off point. I ended up with a genocidal psychopath who appreciates the art of all the peoples he's destroyed. But then when I looked back at it...I had this vague sense that I'd read something similar before. Or maybe just read a review for a similar story. I'm not worried if it's just vaguely similar to something else, but with how short it is, I'd be a bit worried if the central conceit of the character revealing his past atrocities while showing off an art collection is the same as something else.

Ring any bells?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Serial fiction as episodes

One of my models for this serial project is TV shows, as I've mentioned. I don't want to be completely tied to that idea, but so far it's been useful as a way to frame the project (and a way to give my mind a pattern to aim for). So one of the things I did as I was debating how to proceed was to look not just at how individual episodes flow but at how TV seasons are structured.

I don't watch a ton of TV, so some of this is perhaps more obvious to people who do, but I found that in the US a typical season, at least on network TV, is 22 episodes long. They'll contract for the first 13 including the pilot and then do an additional 9 if the opening run is successful. Cable dramas recently have been using a straight 13-episode season recently, though. And even that is simplified, since recent shows have ranged from 6 to 26 (and a few decades ago the typical season was 29-39 episodes).

22 episodes seemed somewhat of a stretch for me to plan out right now. So I decided to plan out the first 13 with a definite arc and a definite season-ending finale, but that leaves things open as to the overall arc that I have in mind for some of the characters. Who knows, maybe as I get going through the first few episodes, I'll see the potential expand and add in another 9 episodes...but I'd have to add them in to the middle somewhere rather than tacking them on at the end. I'm thinking it more likely that I'll just save up any other ideas for later seasons.

Really it's probably silly to worry a lot about that kind of long-range planning as I'm still working slowly through the first episode (the pilot, I guess). I fully expect the pace of writing to pick up, though, both as I get a better hang of the tone and such and the structure of the episodes and as I get the hang of finding writing time with 2 kids. I was doing 3-4 chapters a month with my most recent novel, and I expect I could set a similar pace with the episodes eventually. Plus...I find it fun (and useful) to challenge myself to think of writing in a completely different vein like this.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Stay-at-home dad again

My wife is going back to work today, so I'm at home with both kids, including a baby who seems to find getting her food from a bottle as personally insulting, even though it's the same she'd be getting otherwise. Fortunately it's a relatively easy 2 weeks she's back to wrap things up with residency and then she's off again for 5 or 6 weeks before her new job starts.

Still...wish me luck.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Review of my story from Fictitious Force

The review of FF #5 went up yesterday at The Fix, and it has good things to say about my story. "An odd, allegorical tale," Jim Stratton calls it. The Fictitious Force website still hasn't updated to reflect the new issue (and the subscribe page still hasn't been updated to show the cover of issue 4), but it is available, so go check it out!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Poem live at Raven Electrick

"Machines Tend the Abandoned Fields" is up now. I had submitted this for the February, 2007 submission window, and Karen warned me that it would be this long before it got published. So that meant that while I always remembered that I had it forthcoming--Raven Electrick is frequently one of the zines I mention in cover letters, after all--I hadn't remembered much about the poem itself. I'd even forgotten the title until I had to look it up a month ago.

So it was fun to reread the poem this morning when it went up. As to the origin of this, I remember that I'd decided to write a speculative poem that day (a rather unglamorous inversion of the muse and inspiration, I know). I stepped outside during my son's nap to do some yard work and saw our admittedly gnarled and far-from-perfect rose bush outside (inherited from the previous owners...and I know nothing about caring for rose bushes). The first line came immediately to mind--"In neat rows the rose bushes lie"--with an image of endless fields of identical plants, and when I came inside I expanded on that image.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Ads in a fictional world

I mentioned the other day an idea that came up to incorporate in the serial fiction work--ads as if from the secondary world interspersed with the text. I love little details and items that are supposedly from a secondary world, like the excerpts of historical or other texts that writers use to introduce chapters and the ads that are in the back pages of some of Jasper Fforde's books for the Goliath Corporation, for T.O.A.S.T., and others. And even getting into actual physical items from the setting, things like Ambergris beer.

On the advice of a friend, I'm patterning the structure of each episode (for now, loosely) on the structure of TV shows, so basically four sections or scenes with commercial break between...which got me thinking of what kind of things would go in those commercials. If I did this as a podcast, it could be a lot of fun to create faux radio ads for those places. And then I started thinking that even if I keep it print, I could lay it out as an old newspaper and put newspaper-type ads alongside the text. Either way, there's a lot of room for fun.

One thing I'm debating, though, is whether to make them ads as if from the time of the stories (it's a vaguely steampunk setting, so 19th century) or sometime later as if these stories are actually being recorded within the same city at a later time (say when radio becomes widespread 50-100 years later). That would clearly influence the types of things that might be offered in the ads. I think that question might come down to which format I end up deciding on--a podcast format would fit the radio model, and therefore after-the-fact, better; while a print version could play on Victorian newspaper stylings (a quick bit of research gives early 1800s as the start of the kind of mass-produced, cheap-paper newspapers that jump to mind).

I'm not doing any work on this aspect yet until I have a better grasp of the shape the project will take. But it's always fun to imagine.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bramble Wolf in New Myths

My story "The Bramble Wolf and the Hunter" is now live in issue 3 of New Myths (I can't link directly to the story, so click on issue 3 and go down to the table of contents).

This is loosely related to the first novel manuscript I wrote--so loosely that no one else would likely suspect even if they'd read that. I imagined it as something that happened in the same location but centuries earlier, in a culture that disappeared by the time of the novel, either died out or absorbed by other cultures (there are hints in the novel, never explained, of an earlier people in the region). The title of the story came first--I think the idea of having a story about a hunter was inspired in part by Kelderek of Richard Adams's Shardik.

There's also an interview with each of the issue's writers--click on my name on the story page and then scroll down to the interviews (which area in alphabetical order).