In A Few Words

By David Belt copyright 2013

As I conclude my first novel, I am continually fraught by new challenges. As of last week, I had five scenes to write. I wrote six scenes this week, and now, I have four scenes left to write. If anyone can figure out the math on that, please let me know.

With a novel, I am free to allow my characters to meander toward the plotted end. I have no specific word limit. So if the characters want to put off fighting the lich to sit around the campfire, talking about their feelings, so be it. When it comes to shorter works, however, one cannot be so liberal with the plot flow.

It is said that brevity is the sign of a skilled writer. It takes both talent and study to say more with fewer words, and here are a few tricks that can help keep the word count down.

Tell, don’t show. For many of you, this advice may sound backwards, even blasphemous, but showing the details of an event takes a lot more words than telling the reader it happened. When done correctly telling can be just as effective, if not more so, than showing.

Show: There were no words to be spoken. The night was theirs, and they wrapped their arms around one another, sharing all they had with each other.

Tell: Wordlessly, the couple embraced and rapture became them.

Blitzkrieg Description. A technique employed masterfully by Stephen King which gives a full description in only a sentence or two. Lengthy descriptions rack up the word count and slow down the pace of a story. In his novel, On Writing, King says to pick three or four physical details, at most, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest.

Limited Cast. This one is simple. The fewer the characters, the less there is to write about.

Third Person Omniscient Point of View. Both First Person and Third Person Limited POVs have narrowed views of the world. These shadowed scopes can cause the same scene to take longer to describe than in Omniscient.

The options of writing styles are as varied as snowflakes. Writers are only limited by what lies dormant within their own minds. Be ever mindful of the audience, the plot, and most importantly, the submission guidelines. Time for me to go back to my novel. Until next week, happy writing.

Hoppin’ for Nalo Hopkinson

Where is Nalo Hopkinson in my reader-satisfaction world? I felt as good after finishing Brown Girl in the Ring and The New Moon’s Arms as I did after finishing Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks and after finishing all three of the Julie Czerneda’s Species Imperative series in rapid succession.

It has been a *long time* since I’ve actually been satisfied by a read. This was delicious and perfect and exactly enough. I didn’t need any more or less, and I am closing the book happy. Nalo Hopkinson is the storyteller I’ve been longing for. It was the weirdest reading experience I’ve ever had, and true for both books. I finish, and then I don’t really feel the need to read anything else for a while. WEIRD, huh?

Odd reading behavior for me, but I started The New Moon’s Arms at midnight and finished it at 4:45 am. I usually sip lightly at my books, but this one I consumed whole hog.

There were some attributes to Hopkinson’s writing style true to both books that I really enjoyed.

The first is dialect. I love that Hopkinson includes dialect and doesn’t try to dumb down or explain the lingo as we go along in the story. It’s rather a sink-or-swim, and it’s delicious. We’re creatures of language, and it doesn’t take long before I’m thinking in these new grammatical ways, just from reading,

“It looks like she tear ducts get leave behind when she jook out she eyes, Ti-Jean thought.”

Or

“Eshu, is we here tonight: me, Gros-Jeanne, and me grand-daughter Ti-Jeane, and her Baby-father, Tony.”

But the dialect is not here just for flavouring or authenticity. The patois changes according to whom the character is addressing, who is taking part in the conversation, and what the conversation is about. While Gros-Jeanne, the grandmother who is pretty much stuck in her flavor of English, Tony can formal-up and relax his English to suit his surroundings.

The other writing attribute that did me in for Hopkinson is her characterization. Her people are neither good nor bad, but just folks doing their just folks thing, likeable people who sometimes do unlikeable things, or make dumb mistakes, or bust out with a stupid thing she shouldn’t have said, or are pig-headed on an issue. Just…like…me. (*koff*) But the thing with Hopkinson, is that she lets us know *why* this character made this dumb mistake, or is stubborn on this one issue but otherwise level-headed and progressive. There’s a reason behind everything here, and every character in the story has a part to play in the plot.

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Hopkinson had me doing the involuntary Cheese Chip Deadlift. I realized I had eaten half a bag of the stupid things without realizing what I was doing while reading Brown Girl. Now that’s good writing, hey?

Now, for a brief description of these two books that I’ve read and enjoyed.

Brown Girl in the Ring is a post-apocalyptic style tale, about a gal stuck in inner Toronto after the economy has collapsed and most people have left. It’s difficult to get out of the city, cars are rare, etc, and someone is preying on people for their organs. Ti-Jeanne is young, a new mom, trying to dump her boyfriend and her feelings for him, and living with her grandmother who is the local healer and a Voudoun priestess. Ti-Jeanne has inherited some of these powers, too, it seems, and she doesn’t quite know what to do about them.

The New Moon’s Arms starts with a funeral. One of the attendees loses her undies mid-mourn, and it just kind of goes from there. Calamity is 50-something, and if I’m not at least a little like her when I’m that age, please just push me off the roof. She has an ability to find lost things, or things just sort of manifest to her…including a washed up sea-people child and an entire cashew orchard. Calamity just rolls with the bizarre, though, and keeps on with her life: falling in love, pissing people off, and trying to figure out what’s up with this kid suddenly in her life. There’s a lot of family history, of course, including a seal skin that she and her daughter find on a dare when exploring the mysteriously-manifested cashew orchard. New Word: freezerversity.

I dunno if you’ll like Nalo Hopkinson. But if you like non-stop story, rich and full characters with punkitude and not-always-benificent-magic set in a world likely different than anything you’ve read or visited, you might fall in love with Hopkinson like I did. I plan to read everything she has written and then on to everything she recommends.

Her next book coming out (mid-March) is Sister Mine, and it’s already on pre-order for me with The Book Loft. No, you can’t borrow it. Is MINE! Get your own, punk.

P.s. When you get to reading Hopkinson, be advised that however the e-editions came about, they did a real scan and chop job. They are mostly OK, but some instances of the text being out of order. Advise finding paper copies.

P.P.S. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SEAL SKIN, NALO?

Joe R. Lansdale keeps me up at night

It’s 4:12 a.m. and I’m on page 133 of Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale.

This is not uncommon, actually, this business of Joe Lansdale keeping me up at night.

I like his nuggets of digestible, chewable wisdom, like Flinstones’ vitamins, such as the opener for this novel: “When you grow up in a place, especially if your childhood is a good one, you fail to notice a lot of nasty things that creep beneath the surface and wriggle about like hungry worms in rotten flesh. But they’re there.”

Next, I plan to beat y’all over the head with Nalo Hopkinson. That’s a sledgehammer you may be more susceptible to, as–while Lansdale is strictly not SF/F*–Hopkinson is lovingly, delicately, most definitely SF/F. Be prepared to withstand the Raging Hoarde of my latest author crush.

*not the books I’ve read, yet. There is a timey-wimey Steampunky Weird West thing that I haven’t dived into.

New Words: collodian

“My image in the mirror… No gray at the temples, no collodian-induced crow’s feet guarding the eyes–not a single mark to indicate that once, mere minutes ago, I could have passed for fifty.”
C.S.Friedman, The Madness Season

collodion
col⋅lo⋅di⋅on /kə’loʊdjən/
noun
a colorless syrupy solution of pyroxylin in ether and alcohol; used as a coating for wounds or photographic films

(and evidently also for aging make-up)

Dresden Homework

Ahhh! I’m totally behind on being prepped for the release of Cold Days this coming Tuesday.

I’ve been re-readingaudioing the entire series over the last year, while embroidering or quilting or hand-crafting.

Now mostly thru White Night, I’m anxious about finishing Ghost Story in time for the arrival of my pre-ordered copy of Cold Days. Listening times have expanded to include cooking, driving, cleaning, and carrying shit up and down the stairs, Marsters’ voice shouting from my ass back pocket.

Am I going to make it? Hum… I might have an extra day–til Wednesday–because I ordered my copy from a small bookseller and they will be mailing it to me. Still, I’m feeling a bit like a student with an overdue assignment.

However, in this case: FUEGO!

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I (heart) Joe R. Lansdale

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Happy Halloween, guys and ghouls.

For your Halloween present, I’m giving all of you an author new to me: Joe R. Lansdale.

(note: this is one of my very rare reviews)

I first encountered Joe R. Lansdale in that used bookstore I showed you pictures of a while back. I picked up Mucho Mojo out of the mystery section because the name rang a bell, but darn if I could remember why.
At the bottom of a stack of books I’d bought at the same time, all of which turned out to be my typical “open and toss”,  gloomy, lonely, unable to sleep, wracked with anxiety (do you feel sorry for me yet? heh-heh!) I opened up that Mucho Mojo at midnight and finished it at five a.m. Serious.

Joe Landsale has written about eleventy-billion books, won about 12 billion awards–including the Bram Stoker award–and yet, knowing that I was unfamiliar with his work, couldn’t place why his name was familiar to me.

Mucho Mojo is the second in this series he does featuring Hap and Leonard. The very elementary synopsis is: two buddies stumble into and solve a local mystery.

There are three things I love about reading a Joe Lansdale book:

1) most importantly, the writing flows so effortlessly from the page and into my eyes and carries me away from this place. It’s that rare experience of starting to read and being unable to stop.

2) he doesn’t shy away from racial issues, prejudice, civil rights, theology. He is honest, blunt, brutal, and he lets people in  all their wretchedness be the scariest thing in the world. I had never encountered anything like this before. You need to read it for yourself because I don’t think I can give it justice. It’s not guilt inducing or lectury. The characters discuss their differences in opinion and experiences, and thus Lansdale opens up my mind to new information and yet the characters are not talking heads, vehicles for Lansdale’s soapbox. The characters are gripping and real people, and their opinions are their own.

I have found that many authors write in a way that shows to me that they’re afraid to offend anyone, or a group of people. All peoples can be assholes, and I found that Joe Lansdale’s novels don’t allow us to feel sorry for A Person just because they are [insert stereotype here]. Hap is a 40 year old white guy. Leonard is African American and gay. They are inseparable, the best of best friends. Leonard has troubles with the local populace, but so does Hap, for example, walking into a bar where he is very not welcome.

Maybe I read *too* much fantasy, but these characters really took on some issues that I find terrible and frightening. Oh, and the house next door is a crack house. I’m reading this and thinking, “Gosh, here’s an author who can discuss these issues without shying away from the dark corners and also not be an ass burdened with his own superiority complex.”

2.5) the New Word quote I posted last night, a quote from The Bottoms, is an example of exactly how detailed he can get, looking into those dark corners. It has been my reading experience that authors will cover the event described in that quote with some vague “a bad thing happened”.

3) he’s funny! These books would be unbearable if he didn’t lighten the action with humor. The people say funny things, and they get into funny situational humor, too. The banter between Hap and Leonard had me rolling.

4) Lansdale can change his narration style to suit the novel he’s writing. The one I’m TAKING TIME AWAY FROM READING IN ORDER TO SPEND AN HOUR ON THIS POST FOR YOU, DEAR READER is The Bottoms, a story that takes place in 1933 east Texas. The book is narrated in first person, with a dialect and grammar of someone from that time and place.

(that was four things)

Where had I heard his name before? Oh, YEAH! Subterranean Press has a crush on Joe R. Lansdale and they’ve published several of his novels in their super nice deluxe editions.

This, for example, is some of his situational humor:

“Another staple of Marvel Creek was a band of roving hogs that belonged to Old Man Crittendon.

“The hogs were tolerated most of the time, but once a big one got after Mrs. Owens and chased her down West all the way into her house. Being as how she was a little on the fat side, the general talk of the men around town — who didn’t care much for Mrs. Owens because she was a Yankee and apt to remind folks constantly that the North won the war — named this momentous event The Race of Two Hogs.

“Anyway, Mrs. Owens’s husband, Jason, who wore a beard and dressed in stiff clothes, shot the hog on his front porch with a shotgun, but not before he blew off the porch steps, knocked down a support post, and dropped the roof on the hog and himself. The hog recovered, Mr. Owens didn’t.”

from The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale

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I. J. Parker

I love samurais. I like the action and the honor and the beautiful backdrop of Japan. Hubs and I watched another samurai movie and it occurred to me that there are probably books out there about samurais! Go figure! So I went online and found an author, I.J. Parker, who has written a whole series of books set in eleventh century Japan. The main character, Akitada, solves some mysteries and we learn a little about life in his era.

So I looked at my library and stumbled on a whole section of them! Who knew? I have only read a little historical fiction, mostly about US presidents or the old west. This is my first waaay-back historical fiction series, and I love it.

Akitada is extremely identifiable as a person. Even in eleventh century Japan, mothers can be difficult, work sucks, money is tight, etc. I am only 50 pages into Rashomon Gate (the first I found but technically the second in the series) but I love it. The characters are rounded, the backdrop is beautiful (spring in ancient Kyoto!), and the mystery is delicious. So far, only 50 pages in, there are already two big mysteries to solve. Akitada is intelligent, kind, respectful, and lots of other adjectives. His servant (a reformed highwayman) is a street smart clever man that perfectly compliments Akitada’s book smarts and polished people skills. I know I’ll read all of these. It’s a nice light story; a good plot but nothing too heavy to wade through or traumatic to get over. I even emailed Ms. Parker, and she responded right away! She told me that she will hopefully have more books for e-readers soon, probably the kindle. I look forward to that.

In short, I went out and tried something new. If you want to try something new, something out of the ordinary, something not in your TBR pile, try out some mystery in ancient Japan. Start with Dragon’s Scroll or Rashomon Gate. You will not be disappointed.

New Words: reredos

“Everyone who was anyone in the Madrid art world gathered there, from agents working for foreign auctioneers, who were just passing through on the lookout for reredos or a private collection for sale, to gallery owners, researchers, impresarios, specialist journalists and fashionable painters.”

–from The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez Reverte

reredos
rere⋅dos /’rirdɒs/
noun
a painted or carved screen placed above and behind an altar or communion table
syn: altarpiece

The Death of the Necromancer, Martha Wells

“Reynard said grimly, ‘Whether he’s committing plagiarism or he’s thought it up all on his own, Dr. Octave’s got to die.’ “
The Death of the Necromancer, Martha Wells

And that’s the point at which I know I’ve just got to finish this novel.

Nicholas is a con-man with a history, who gets himself into a bit more trouble than he anticipated.

With gas-lit streets, abandoned mansions, honor among thieves, zombie/ghoul…things, and goofy fake seances–one of which turns out to be real (uh-oh!), Martha Wells has me up late following Nic, Reynard, Crack and Madeline track down this rogue Necromancer.

Turns out this may be one of my stops on my Epic Quest. This book is a standalone written in the same world as her trilogy, The Fall of Ile Rien. Her latest books are with Night Shade Books, the first of those is called The Cloud Roads, which folks really seem to like.

She’s got the first chapter of Necromancer up on her website, here.