Daily Archives: July 27, 2010

Droid X Day II: The Droidinationing

Because I’m getting lots of e-mail from people who want to know more about the Droid X, presumably because they are in the market for a new cell phone themselves, some more thoughts on the thing. Note that some of these thoughts will be about the Android platform in general, not just about the Droid X.

1. First, the coolest damn thing ever: Google Goggles, which (for those of you who like me a day ago and hadn’t really heard of this thing) does a creditable job identifying things when you take a picture of them with your phone and send it along to Google’s server farm. I spent a fair amount of time today wandering about the house to see what things Goggles recognized and what it didn’t. Art posters on the wall? Got the artist and the original picture. Book covers? No problem. The cats? Well, apparently Ghlaghghee isn’t famous enough for the Google servers. But two out of three isn’t bad.

2. Second thing I like: The Droid X has mobile hotspot capability, which I paid for, and which is paying off right this very moment because my broadband is down for some unfathomable reason, and I’m using the mobile hotspot to be online. The hotspot has a bandwidth cap of 2GB per billing cycle; since I don’t really plan on downloading lots of data-intensive stuff on it I suspect that will be just fine. I travel enough at this point that having a mobile hotspot to call my own will be worth it; I’m looking forward to not paying for hotel Internet anymore.

3. The Android interface and apps are nice but also generally a shade less slick than their Apple counterparts. That said, they’re slick enough and miles ahead of the apps on the Storm, so I don’t think of this as much of a problem, actually. I also notice that a lot of apps in the Android market are priced a couple of dollars higher than their counterparts in the Apple app store, and I do find this a bit annoying.

4. I’ve found the Droid X actually very comfortable to hold and use. The reviewer whining about the size seems even more non-sensical to me two days in; the thing fits well in my hand and the ridge in the back (where the camera juts out a bit) gives it a secure feel in the hand whether one is holding it vertically or horizontally. The screen looks great and things are easy to read on it and my ability to handle it with a single hand continues unabated. Basically I think the size complaints are bunk.

5. Some things I don’t like so far: I think the physical buttons on the phone are a little wonky, although part of that is me used to a slightly different function configuration on the Storm. I also notice the browser takes a while to access and load sites, even when wifi is on. Some of the apps could use better internal navigation. The camera is adequate but not great. I’ve played with the Swype keyboard and am a bit underwhelmed with it; I can type faster the old-fashioned way. The Droid X does not make me either smarter or more attractive.

But in all so far a very worthwhile investment and something I suspect will fit my needs for a smartphone very well. If you’re in the market for a new phone and are a Verizon customer, I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Marjorie M. Liu and Kelley Armstrong Have a Conversation About Writing

In my neverending quest to get other people to do my work for me completely selfless attempt to bring interesting writers and their books to your attention, because I love you, here’s something new for you, and we’ll see what you think: Two authors chatting with each other about their new books, and about writing.

Today’s two authors: Marjorie M. Liu and Kelley Armstrong, both New York Times bestselling authors of paranormal fantasy, each with new books out today: A Wild Light, which continues Liu’s “Hunter’s Kiss” series, and Waking the Witch, which does the same for Armstrong’s “Otherworld” series. Their topics: Writing styles and process, and how those relate to their new books.

MARJORIE M. LIU:

Kelley, I’d love to talk to you about writing styles.

One thing I love and admire about Waking the Witch is how tightly it’s plotted.  It’s fast, cut lean, and every word counts.  Once I started reading, it was incredibly difficult to put down — I felt the momentum, a gathering of strength in the story and characters — and the ending!  I did not expect that at all, but it was perfect.

I’m still figuring out how to write each new book, but do you have a process that you’re most comfortable with?  When you’re sitting down to write a novel, what’s the one piece of the puzzle that you need to set in place before everything else tumbles onto the page?

KELLEY ARMSTRONG:

Marjorie, my writing style does tend to be fast-paced.  I consider it taking my weaknesses and trying to put a positive spin on them <grin> I’m not good at description and setting.  Nor is my prose rich and poetic.  It’s very much a bare-bones style with the focus on action and dialogue.  If I can avoid the temptation to meander (or at least cut all that in edits!) I can turn it into tight pacing.

It’s funny, though, because after years of being praised–and sometimes criticized–for the pace of my books, now that I’m writing for teens, I get comments like “it was kinda slow starting” or “some parts dragged.”  Their expectations are different from many older readers, and it’s like a splash of cold water, waking me from that complacency of thinking I know what my strengths are.  It makes me take a harder look at the parts of my writing I’ve brushed off as “oh, but I know I’m good at that.”

One thing I admired about A Wild Light is the depth and richness of your writing.  Your prose is very lush, but you still keep up the pace and the action, which is a rare combination.  Do you feel that’s your natural style?  Or something that’s developed over the years?

As for process…

After seventeen books and countless pieces of short fiction, my process still changes.  I think now, though, that it’s “shaking things up” rather than refining the process.  Sometimes I’ll have a ten page outline.  Sometimes, I’ll have two paragraphs.  I’ll write long-hand for two books in a row, then switch to direct keyboarding for the next two.  But the one thing I must have in place is the main character.  Nothing works without that.  If it’s a new character, she’ll be refined over the course of the book, but when I sit down to start page one, I need to feel I know this person well enough to slip into her skin.

So I’ll toss the same question back at you.  What do you need in place before you start?

MARJORIE M. LIU:

Regarding style…

You know, when I was a freshman in high school, reading Borges and Neruda, and Allende — all of them were a revelation to me.  Which sounds dramatic, but sometimes you read works that shake you up and show you a new world of words.  I didn’t know stories and poetry could be written like that.  I hadn’t thought about the color of language, or how words could evoke a place, or person, or the soul of that person.  I internalized that in a very deep way.

But that was good and bad, because there’s a fine line between being lush and being overwritten, and I know I cross that line more often than I’d like.

My style has evolved over the years — and it’s still changing.  I experiment a lot, trying to be aware of the words I use, and how fragments and structure can affect the feeling of a moment.  For example, in the beginning of The Iron Hunt, I use mostly sentence fragments to tell the story.  It’s sharp and hard, with a particular rhythm.  That was intentional, because I was trying to evoke urgency and vulnerability — winter, death, solitude — a particular immediacy.

I’m writing another book (not part of the Hunter Kiss series) that is very bare-bones.  I’m really stripping my language down — focusing mostly on action and dialogue, and nothing else.  I don’t know if that will stick when it comes time to write the next Hunter Kiss novel, or if it’s the series itself that evokes a certain style.  I think it’s the latter, honestly.

And my process always changes, too!   Each novel I write has a different temperament, and requires a different approach.  I can’t explain it…sometimes the words come easily, and the ideas just spark fire — but then there are the days when I’m banging my head against the wall, and I’m reevaluating this and that, and how I write — and I tell myself that maybe an outline will help, but then I outline and I have to throw it out — and so on.

Like you, though, I HAVE to know the main characters.  I need to be right inside their hearts.  The journey spills out of that.  I also need to have a good first sentence in place.  Even if it changes over time, having a really strong, powerful beginning creates a certain momentum that I use to propel me forward into the story.

It is interesting, though, how writing for a different audience forces us to reexamine our craft and storytelling.  That happened when I moved from writing just romance to urban fantasy — which was a harder transition than I thought it would be — and then it occurred again when I began writing comic books, which is a completely different style altogether.

Look! I Am Drawing Your Attention to These Things!

Because, you know. Why be subtle about it.

1. To celebrate the arrival of the author copies of Shades of Milk and Honey, and the book’s imminent release (as in, next Tuesday), Mary Robinette Kowal is having a caption contest to give away two signed copies of the novel. Yes! Signed! To you, even! That is, if you win. But I totally know you’re going to win. Because you’re creative like that. Remember that one time, when you said that thing, and I said “wow, that was really creative?” It’ll be just like that all over again. Only with a signed book at the end.

2. Congratulations to my fellow Viable Paradise instructors Debra Doyle and Jim Macdonald, whose new alt-history novel, Lincoln’s Sword, hits bookstores today. Fans of alternative history will be all over this, and if you’re not a fan of alternative history, you know what? Maybe in another time line, you are. And maybe that version of you is a much happier person. Think about that. And speaking of the general subject of alternate history, Debra Doyle has a great guest post on Making Light talking about alternate history, the Civil War and why people get spiky about it, and her and Jim’s new novel. Meaty food for thought.

3. You know who else is having deep thoughts today? Cat Rambo, that’s who. Specifically, she’s having smart and cogent thoughts on print and electronic publishing, how they differ and how they’re the same, and what it all means. She’s doing it on a guest post at the SFWA blog, and you should all go now to read it because I don’t know that you’ve thought about traditional versus electronic publishing enough today. Really, how you get through your day not thinking about it, I just don’t know.

4. But, John, you say. What about you? Aren’t you going to link to something about you? Because how can you call yourself a venal, grasping egotist if you don’t? Those are some excellent questions, my friend, and in response let me present you with this essay on METAtropolis, in which the author posits that the near-future anthology I edited and contributed to is, in fact, a work of “outsider anarchism.” And once you’ve read that, check out this response to the essay at Futurismic, which discusses the role of outsider anarchism in science fiction more generally. I’m not personally going to address the topic at this point, since I think it’ll be more interesting to let other people bat it around, and anyway, what does the editor/co-author know about such things? I am merely a vessel. (Note for the irony impaired: I am not merely a vessel.) I will say I do enjoy people taking the work seriously. We aimed to entertain, but quite a lot of thought went into the construction.

And there you are. Get linking.

The Big Idea: A.C.E. Bauer

The great thing about Shakespeare – as if there were just one great thing about him — is that he offers so many opportunities for other writers to explore his work, ask questions and then build their own stories from there. He’s a lodestone of inspiration, and even some of the smallest elements of his tales lend themselves to expansion. To make this point, author A.C.E. Bauer is here to tell us how Come Fall came from wondering about a character in a Shakespeare play, whose role is so small that it doesn’t even have a single line… and yet inspired fascination all the same.

A.C.E. BAUER:

I fell in love with A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was a teenager. The story, the sets, the costumes—everything charmed me. And the blowhard with the ass’s head was named Bottom! What wasn’t to love?

Over the years, as I reread the play and saw new productions, something began to puzzle me.

Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of the fairies, fight over a boy the queen adopted at the request of the boy’s mother. Oberon becomes jealous, calls in Puck, and sets in motion a series of hilarious mismatched love affairs thanks to a magic potion. The argument resolves when Titania agrees to give up the boy, and the story ends with all the young players getting married—as all young players in a Shakespearian comedy should.

But what about the boy? He had been given to Oberon. What next?

The boy was something of a mystery. We were told he was from India, that his mother died in childbirth, and that Titania was her goddess. But the boy had no lines, nor were there any stage directions for him. In the productions I’ve seen, he didn’t even appear on stage. I caught a glimpse of him once, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman issue about A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But there he was Shakespeare’s son, dressed up for the part..

And so I speculated. If I were Oberon, given a child whom I despised and wanted to hide from my consort, what would I do with him?

The boy’s memory needed to be wiped out, so I reduced him to infancy. Then I sent him far away, to another plane of existence, on the other side of the world—to Bridgeport, Connecticut. For the next fifteen years, I kept him clear of all things fairy, to avoid Titania’s eye, and had him spend his life in foster care, moving from one family to the next.

There. Done.

Except for one thing. Although Titania gave the boy up, she had promised his mother that she would care for him. And a queen is not so easily forsworn. So, despite the boy’s banishment to New England’s suburban hinterlands, she would have kept track of him, Oberon’s jealously notwithstanding.

Here’s where another idea came in. The boy was human. What if he had no idea that this swirling world of magic existed?

Okay, back to my childhood for a second.

Sometime after I learned how to read, and sometime before puberty confused the heck out of me, I truly believed in magic. Oh, I didn’t believe in magic tricks. They were tricks. But there was a place out there, somewhere, elsewhere, where magic existed. And sometimes, when I walked through the woods and talked to trees, or if I stared just right at complicated tilework, or when I scratched a rock with a stick, or threw a pebble into a lake, I thought I glimpsed it—not the whole place, only a shimmer or a sliver of it—and if I played it right, I knew could walk in and be magical, too.

But then I’d be called to dinner, or forced to brush my teeth, or asked to do any number of childhood chores. Day in and day out, I dealt with this world, without magic. And eventually I realized I couldn’t get there from here.

I wanted to explore this relationship to magic from my childhood.

Since the boy had been banished here, I made him live in our world—a place where bullies don’t get jinxed away, and foster parents don’t suddenly grant wishes, and bottle caps are simply bottle caps, not some talisman to conjure up a djinni. Though he might glimpse the magical world and believe it was real, he couldn’t reach it.

I wrote his story without visible magic. Titania and Oberon were engaged in an all out tug of war, but they were off-stage, and the boy only saw the fallout in the here and now.

After several hundred pages, I had intriguing characters, a good story arc, and a hint of the mysterious. The boy made friends, good friends, who did brave things, and I really liked them.

My editor at the time said, “There’s something missing here. Why are these kids encountering so much trouble? You hint, but you don’t give us enough.” She turned down the manuscript.

Well duh. I had left out half the story! So I set out to fix the problem—a remarkably easy fix, I thought at the time. I had already created a raging fight between the king and queen in my head. It was a simple matter of putting it down on paper. And since the this world part was written, it’d be easy. I recruited a crow who already played an important role in the story. Puck made the perfect go between. Voila, I had it. Right?

“Hmm,” my current editor said. “It’s kind of dark.”

“A little. I guess,” I said.

“Hmm.”

This wasn’t going well.

“Then there’s Titania,” he said.

“What about Titania?”

“She’s throwing a tantrum.”

“Well, she’s pissed, you know.”

“For the entire book?”

Okay. I had work to do.

I went back to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and spent time with Puck and the queen. I reworked several plot lines and drove my family crazy with “What if” questions. I rewrote. A lot. But it was worth it.

Come Fall strikes a balance. On the one hand there’s the world of a great king and queen who are at odds while dealing with fairies’ foibles. On the other is our mundane world where we’re stuck weeding gardens and dealing with ordinary humans. But these two worlds connect and influence each other. And if you look at things just right, at a slant, with a bit of willingness, you can catch a glimpse of that elsewhere.

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Come Fall: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Read A.C.E. Bauer’s LiveJournal.