April 13th, 2009

criminal minds prentiss reid awful troof

superstars. blighted ones.

I'm waiting for my lunch date. You've got questions (you could ask yours here), I've got answers....

18.) How do you use music in your writing (if you do)? Do you associate certain songs with characters or scenes, and do certain albums/playlists/artists help you write (or prewrite stories in your head before you actually write them down)? Do you play certain songs just to piss certain characters off? (For instance, The Arrogant Worms's Gaelic Song for anyone with Celtish heritage?) Do they curse you out for this?

Yes, yes, yes, no, no.

In that order. *g*

19.) Did the poltergeist make the move, or stay behind at the apartment?

No sign of Claude here. The only broken stuff, so far I've broken myself....

20.)  What's the square root of negative one? 


21.) (twofer) I'm looking to improve the way I critique stories. Do you have any suggestions? I'm just starting out, and feel overwhelmed. (and) I'm wondering what your opinions are of peer critique, from the perspective of the one being critted. How helpful do you find critique of your work to be, both generally (in terms of learning strengths/weaknesses in one's overall writing) and specifically (as in, improving the individual piece)?

As to critiquing stories, remember that what you are doing, chiefly, is responding to a story as a reader. Notice where you are interested, where you get bored, what you wonder about, what strikes you as awkward or hollow or wrong or unlikely. Also notice what you like--a turn of phrase, a character detail, and bit of plot or description.

Write all those things down, and then offer them to the writer as data points. Don't insist that your interpretation is right, and your means of fixing what you see as a problem is the only way. (It's probably not, and what you see as a problem may be just your own personal preference getting in the way.) Stay aware that it's all subjective. Be generous with praise where you can, and honest in critique.

There's a well-known workshop list of vocabulary and common problems here. Here's a guide on how to critique effectively.

As for how helpful it is to be critiqued? Some. I find critiquing others, in general, more useful in terms of learning to write. Which is, after all, the overall goal. I think a lot of writers come to workshops with the idea of getting this particular piece into publishable shape (some will in fact bring the same story to workshop after workshop, polishing and repolishing. I don't think you learn anything that way, quite honestly. I think you learn by attempting new and more challenging work.), and I think that's a red herring, as life goals go.

I think that a good crit does a lot of things. It tries to support the story the writer wants to tell, rather than turning it into the story the critters wants to read. It can alert the writer to where problems are, and sometimes what they are, and sometimes suggest a solution.

Some editors are very good at fixing story problems, or specific kinds of story problems. Emma Bull, for example, has an amazing eye for the thing you can do to pop a sagging narrative structure into place, nice and tight, and make it look like it was always meant to be that way. She's like the plumber with the tiny little hammer who knows just where to tap. My own editorial knack seems to be patching plot holes and making apparent contradictions make sense. Beth Meacham, as I have just had occasion to be reminded, is really good at fixing tension problems--she helps make stories more interesting. However, often the suggested fixes are not very useful--however, spotting where a couple of people tripped over the same thing can tell the writer where the problem is, and that's useful.

Sarah Monette goes through my stories and tells me where I'm being obscure and opaque and too inductive for the room. I go through hers and vacuum up stray adjectives. (It's a lesser task, but worthy of my skill.) "Shoggoths in Bloom" is as good as it is because the rest of my Sycamore Hill class picked it to shreds over the course of one of the worst 90 minutes of my life. I owe an especial debt of gratitude to Christopher Rowe and Dale Bailey, who made specific comments that were amazingly helpful.

...I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes critique is incredibly useful, especially when you find sympatico crit partners. And sometimes it's not all that helpful, but you can still pick out some information from it.

So yes, it does help you improve an individual piece. But the act of revising and resubmitting an individual piece means that ou internalize new skills, which in turn leads to the next piece being stronger at the start.

Also be aware that most writers critique from the standpoint of the tools they are currently working hardest on developing. If my back brain is working on characterization, I'm going to be focused on the characterization in everybody else's work. Critting is a form of reading, and reading is a highly projective game. We learn a lot about people by what they see in our work, because they reveal themselves when they reveal their vision.

This is, by the way, also one of the great tricks of POV.

(I am amused that truepenny, who started this round of the question game, is getting all kinds of neat questions about her work, and I'm mostly getting how-to-write questions. *g* Which I do not mind at all! I just think it reveals a lot about who reads our respective blogs.)
writing shadow unit chaz gravity

(no subject)

We climbed outside at Pinnacle today. We set up and ran through a 5.5 with a slight positive pitch (that means it leans back a little) and a 5.7+ on a crack with a tiny bit of an overhung section.

I got them both, and even topped out on the 5.7+, but boy, my meat still thinks outdoor climbing is terrifying.

I have gotten better though, though it sucks that the meat is totally not willing to fall, outside. (I scraped up my right pinkie pretty good, though. That feels like an accomplishment.

writing matthew

it really comes out better on a stolen guitar

More questions! (You can ask yours here.)

22.)  I was just curious as to (very loosely) how One-Eyed Jack fits with the Promethean universe. Will we be seeing familiar characters?

One-Eyed Jack & the Suicide King
is set in Las Vegas (mostly) in 1964 and 2002. That puts the present-day narrative of the book in between Blood & Iron (set in 1997) and Whiskey & Water (set in 2004).

There's one character in it who will be familiar to novel series readers (He's in Whiskey & Water.)

Three others, Tribute, Jackie, and Stewart, will be familiar to readers of my short stories, as some or all of them appear in each "House of the Rising Sun" (which is actually a chapter from OEJ), "Sonny Liston Takes the Fall," "One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King" (also a chapter from OEJ), and "King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree," which will be forthcoming in an Ellen Datlow anthology in the not-too-distant future.

I wanted to get Pinky Gilman and Maria Delprado into it (yes, that is a Promethean Age story), but the opportunity for legal action just never presented itself.

OEJ, essentially, expands the Promethean Age universe a lot, and shows some of the stuff that goes on that has nothing to do with Faerie. The further adventures of the New York City crowd will be chronicalled in Patience & Fortitude... if I ever sell it.

23.) How is your acoustic guitar practice coming along? Do you have any long-term goals in mind for it -- say, playing a gig with </a></b></a>coffeeem? Are you interested in learning the electric guitar or any other instruments? Do you wish you'd done some part of it different?

I suck, and I don't practice enough, but I really like doing it. I have had the guitar out this week, though, so I don't suck as much as I have been sucking. I need to rebuild my calluses again. Le sigh. No long-term goals. No plans to learn any other instrument, though my dad will frown at me if I don't at least take a crack at the banjo he gave me one of these years.

Yeah, I wish I'd started when I was five.

24.) Since you pointed out that your questions are tending toward your processes instead of your work -- what was your process for writing "Sonny Liston Takes The Fall"? What are you most proud of about it?

I got the idea for it, did a ton of research, put John Gorka's "Dream Street" and Mark Knopfler's "A Song for Sonny Liston" on repeat, and wrote the bastard. Then I put it up on the Online Writing Workshop, got some excellent crits, revised it a bunch, and sent it out to find a home.

It's one of the ones that I'm happiest with, because it's one of the ones that reflects my own uninterpreted thought process best. When I'm not running it through filters for the deductive folks, adding transitions and so on, that is how my brain works. That story feels right to me, not as if I have translated myself into another language but as if I managed to get what was in my head on the page.

The story shows to bridge the gaps in the narrative, and sort of hangs there shimmering and elusive--and hopefully, eventually, satisfying.

It's my favorite of all my work. And Barry Malzberg once told me he liked it, which may be the high point of my career to date.

25.) Just for fun -- let's say your friend the film director makes a short film of "Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel." Whom do you cast as Mr. Earbrass? If they use a voice-over narrator, whom do you cast as the narrator? Or does the whole project fill you with a vast, vast reluctance?

Mmmm. The Unstrung Harp--the only true book on the life of a writer. I think in my head I hear it read aloud in Boris Karloff's voice. And Steve Buscemi or John Malkovich would make a wonderful Earbrass.

26.) Please, please, please, for the love of God -- does it get easier to sit down and make yourself write? Or at least easier to make the words come out once you're done procrastinating?

I'm so terribly sorry. In my experience, it gets harder. On both counts.

27.) Is there going to be a follow-up to "Seven for a Secret"?

Well, Bill bought another novella from me, so I suspect I have to write one. It won't be an immediate sequel, though. I'm always, as a writer, more interested in the choices than the explosions.

28.) How do you recommend going about getting more of a grounding in critical thinking about literature, particularly genre literature, from the perspective of a writer?

In one's copious spare time, read critcism. I recommend starting with Joanna Russ.

29.) You've said how much you hate/hated writing Blood and Iron, which makes me all the more curious--what was your favorite scene?

Hmm. Either the bit in the cave with Mist, or the one at the edge of the loch with Whiskey. Though Morgan steals any scene you give her.

30.) I'm doing a lot of assuming here, but based on your writing and whose character LJ you manage, I've noticed Chaz seems to be your favorite SU character, at least to write. What is it that draws you to him? Is he your favorite to read as well? Any SU characters that won't, for the life of you, ever talk?

Your assumptions about who manages whom's character livejournal is not founded in fact. *g* Emma and I both do all the character journals.

Sometimes, both of us are playing all the characters simultaneously in the same comment threads.

I contemplate bribing Leah with cookies to come help out when she's a little more settled in as staff, but I suspect, like a sane person, she'll resist. They may have to be really good cookies. 

Actually, of the lot of them, I think Todd is my favorite character, both to read about and to write. (That sort of seems to be the consensus, really: Todd is a gas. He writes himself--almost literally.)

But secondary characters are almost always more fun than protagonists. Protagonists get so much hell. And Todd is definitely in somebody else's movie, here. But he's totally okay with that.

31) Was season 1 always going to end with the idea for Refining Fire? Were there any very early ideas for the series as a whole that were eventually scrapped or developed into something completely different? (Different character names, different characters, &c).

Emma and Will did almost all the character development work before Sarah and I came on board. I think I named Daphne, and I seem to recall that Falkner was originally a male character before we decided, screw it, we are not really the FBI, we can have as many girls as we want.

Oh, and Chaz had a pet penguin.

Okay, no, he really didn't.

Refining Fire was the first thing we wrote. It wasn't the first thing we finished: Sarah got "Dexterity" done while we were working on it. So yeah, it was a goal we were always writing towards. I campaigned heavily for the real-time release schedule, as I recall, and probably my cocreators wanted to drown me in a hat over it.

32.) I remember hearing something, I think from EBull, about you either writing fanfiction or entertaining the idea. For which "fandoms" would you write/have you written?

Tah dah! You can find all my fanfiction here. I'm the weirdo who didn't start writing fanfic until she was a published author. Well, I think I wrote some Man from UNCLE and Knight Rider treatments longhand in my notebooks as a kid, but it wasn't anything like 'zine or internet fanfic in that I had no idea anybody else was doing it, I actively avoided showing it to anyone, and at the time I was thinking of it in terms of students copying masters to learn the craft.

Yeah, I was a weird, intense kid with no friends. Why do you ask?
muppetology need bears fozzie &amp; kermit

(no subject)

Yes, I changed my journal title. After I dunno how long.

The new one is a Lawrence Block quote: advice on writing. Good advice, at that.
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